How I got totally on-line scammed, but was saved by the dumbest password ever

So, I’ve been foolishly paying $8/month to lease my cable modem from Time Warner Cable.  I knew this was dumb, but ahhhh, only $8.  This week a friend told me his internet speeds went way up after replacing his modem.  Now that got me moving.  This Netgear cable modem got excellent reviews so I went with it.

I called TWC to authorize the new modem.  Didn’t work.  TWC provided me a number to call Netgear to help get it working.  Netgear guy just had me bypass the router, hook the modem directly to my desktop, and call TWC back on a conference call.  This TWC rep was smarter and did something different and got me connected.  Netgear guy stayed on the line to make sure my internet worked when I reconnected the router.  It didn’t.

He asked me to open a program (a legitimate citrix program) that would give him access to my machine for diagnostics.  I was not suspicious because 1) I thought I was talking to Netgear, and 2) I’ve done this before successfully with Dell technical support.  He ran through a bunch of stuff in Dos command windows that appeared to show my IP address was actually in Korea and that I had been hacked by a Zeus trojan.  It seemed weird that Netgear would care about all this and I started getting suspicious, mentioning I wanted to talk it over with NCSU tech support, etc.  He told me only a “level 7 anti-hacking expert” could fix this and nobody local would be able to help me.   Again, really suspicious.  Before I could get him off the phone, he told me he could fix everything for $300.  As I was asking questions I saw him quickly bring up a password box and enter a password.  Ruh-oh.  I asked him about this and he said it would protect from further hacking.  He told me my whole system was compromised– every device I use on the network and that basically only he could fix it.  He had me write a text file with info, including a number for him, but insisted I write his number down with paper and pencil, too.

I got off the call, rehooked my router again, and this time it was working (honestly, I think it just needed five minutes).  Quick FB message to a friend (thanks, MDG!) and it was pretty obvious this was a scam.  But what?  When I went to the command window, I saw that the last command used was “syskey.”  I realized that was it.  I was a victim of the syskey scam.  Once I restarted, the computer would ask for a password and I wouldn’t be able to do anything without it.  Except, of course, presumably call the malefactor and pay him $300.   Fortunately, the scammer did not ask me to reboot, so I was able to use my computer in the meantime.  I came across this and thought I had the solution.  Alas, it still needed the password!  I imagined that my entire Sunday would be restoring my computer (I at least found my backup DVD’s way easier than I expected).  Enough googling of “syskey scam” and it turns out that passwords of 123, abc, 1234, 111, etc., were really common.  I tried the first 3 of those with no luck and a falling heart.  But, then, 111, and success!  All the trouble this scammer had gone to and he locks my computer with 111??!!

So, it works, I’m good. I think.  How in the hell did this happen?  #1, my guard was way down because I was quite certain I was talking to Netgear technical support, since TWC had given me the number to call.  Alas, pretty sure I was screwed by TWC.  Google netgear tech support contact number and google pops up a box with 844-330-2330.  Yep, so that’s how TWC gave me the number.  And if you google the number, you can see all the different companies they are trying to use for this scam.

Anyway, that was kind of horrible.  One of the very rare occasions I benefited from a benzodiazepine before bed.  Like I said, I think I’m okay.  From what I can tell, this is the scam.  Just lock the computer.  I didn’t see anything on-line suggesting further iterations beyond this.  The bad guy has my MAC address for my modem and my actual IP (not the one in Korea), but I get the sense that there’s not all that much he can do with that as long as I’ve got a functioning firewall.  Of course, I ran a full Anti-malware and Kaspersky scan, too.

Anyway, tomorrow I will be calling TWC and stressing they need to be a lot more careful about the phone numbers they give to customers!  Oh, and my internet is exactly the same speed with the new modem.  At least it pays for itself in 7 months.

It was also a fascinating lesson for me in how easily I could be duped when I believed I was talking to a legitimate person.  In retrospect there were red flags all over the place, but when you think you are talking to Netgear, a red flag is more just a “that’s weird.”  I hope I learned a lesson from this, but I’m not sure.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Using game theory to improve your parenting.

2) A Black former police officer on systemic racism in police departments.  A few bad apples really do spoil the barrel.

2) The bad officers corrupt the departments they work for

About that 15 percent of officers who regularly abuse their power: a major problem is they exert an outsize influence on department culture and find support for their actions from ranking officers and police unions.

That is huge and that is something that really, really needs to change.

3) Thomas Edsall on economic envy and the rise of Trump.

4) In reality, a giant— big and friendly, or otherwise– would need to have much thicker legs than the BFG.

5) Go ahead, eat your pasta.  In moderation.

6) What the Nordic countries get right:

Partanen’s principal question is the following: What’s the best way for a modern society to advance freedom and opportunity? She explains that Nordic governments do so by providing social services that the U.S. government doesn’t—things like free college education and heavily subsidized child care. Within that big question, Partanen poses more pointed questions about contemporary life in the United States: Is “freedom” remaining in a job you hate because you don’t want to lose the health insurance that comes with it? Is “independence” putting your career on hold, and relying on your partner’s income, so you can take care of a young child when your employer doesn’t offer paid parental leave or day care is too expensive? Is “opportunity” depending on the resources of your parents, or a bundle of loans, to get a university degree? Is realizing the American Dream supposed to be so stressful?

“What Finland and its neighbors do is actually walk the walk of opportunity that America now only talks,” Partanen writes. “It’s a fact: A citizen of Finland, Norway, or Denmark is today much more likely to rise above his or her parents’ socioeconomic status than is a citizen of the United States.” The United States is not Finland. And, in one sense, that’s bad news for America. Numerous studies have shown that there is far greater upward social mobility in Nordic countries than in the United States, partly because of the high level of income inequality in the U.S.
In another sense, though, it’s perfectly fine to not be Finland. As Nathan Heller observed in The New Yorker, the modern Nordic welfare state is meant to “minimize the causes of inequality” and be “more climbing web than safety net.” Yet the system, especially in Sweden, is currently being tested by increased immigration and rising income inequality. And it’s ultimately predicated on a different—and not necessarily superior—definition of freedom than that which prevails in America. “In Sweden,” Heller argued, “control comes through protection against risk. Americans think the opposite: control means taking personal responsibility for risk and, in some cases, social status.”

7) Traffic tickets for those who drive too slowly in the left lane?  Yes, please!

8) Great analysis on just how incredibly narrow and wrong Trump’s world-view is, based on his 12 books.  Here’s the key:

For Donald Trump, calling someone a loser is not merely an insult, and calling someone a winner is not merely a compliment. The division of the world into those who win and those who lose is of paramount philosophical importance to him, the clearest reflection of his deep, abiding faith that the world is a zero-sum game and you can only gain if someone else is failing.

This is evident after reading all 12 of Trump’s books on politics and business (leaving out Trump: The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received, alas), as Vox staffers did over the course of the previous two months…

More generally, he’s always believed in the fundamental zero-sum nature of the world. Whether he’s discussing real estate in New York, or his ’00s reality TV career, or his views on immigration and trade, he consistently views life as a succession of deals. Those deals are best thought of as fights over who gets what share of a fixed pot of resources. The idea of collaborating for mutual benefit rarely arises. Life is dealmaking, and dealmaking is about crushing your enemies.

“You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win,” he writes inThink Big and Kick Ass, co-authored with Bill Zanker of the Learning Annex. “That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal you win — not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself.” To “crush the other side and take the benefits,” he declares, is “better than sex — and I love sex.”

Of course, those of us who understand how the world actually works realize that there’s all sorts of win-win situations.  Poor Donald Trump lives an incredibly constrained little world.  Sad.

9) Going back to literary fiction… I think Arthur Kyrstal is way too hung up on the quality and manner of the prose style.  I think Lev Grossman sets the bar too low, however (and despite it’s great reviews I found his Magicians decidedly ordinary).

10) This lawyer who specializes in security clearances says Hillary got off easy.

11) Okay, so maybe carbs aren’t that bad.

12) Fascinating post from an Indian on her struggles adapting to American small talk.

13) So, maybe people really do become more prejudiced as they age (not me when I’m an old man, damnit!).   So, had a class from this Von Hippel fellow in grad school.  He was awesome:

Bill von Hippel, a psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, has found an interesting pattern in his experiments and studies on age and prejudicial opinions.

Von Hippel finds that older adults generally want to be fair and restrain prejudicial thoughts. But they literally just can’t control themselves, which Von Hippel suspects is the result of the deterioration of the brain that comes with aging.

“A lot of research shows that older adults suffer losses in their ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts,” Von Hippel writes me in an email. “We have found that older adults who try to prevent stereotypes from influencing their judgment typically find that they rely on them more and more as they age. … Aging will tend to make many people more negatively disposed toward immigration.”

Here’s his idea. As we grow up, we’re constantly exposed to stereotypes. We can recognize them implicitly, even though we may not believe or act on them. Stereotypes “get activated automatically whether we want them to or not,” he says.

It takes mental effort — the executive control of the frontal lobes — to silence those stereotypes and think of people in a more well-rounded way. As we age, and as our frontal lobes lose their sharpness, we may lose that ability to inhibit stereotypical thoughts, despite our stated intentions.

14) The NRA, Philando Castile, and race.

15) Donald and Hobbes (instead of Calvin).  So good.

16) Michael Eric Dyson is just so wrong in this Op-Ed.  When you are pissing off white people like me with your rhetoric, you are really not helping.

16) Given that people keep getting shot at low-level traffic stops, maybe we should end low-level traffic stops.

17) Killer police robots.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The show trial of the IRS Commissioner:

No one in their right mind would have wanted the job. Koskinen took it for the reasons that Dwight Ink (and the wonk community) prized when he singled out Koskinen for praise. He did it to make government work better for the American people. And, like most other executive-branch nominees, he had to endure delays and a filibuster before being confirmed in December 2013.

His reward: an irresponsible, unprecedented, and politically motivated attack from Republicans in the House…

There is a broader motive here, coming from radical forces that want to blow up all of government as we know it. Intimidating, undermining, and destroying the IRS’s capacity to carry out its role, to collect all the tax money that’s owed, to starve government, makes all agencies perform more poorly, and leads to a backlash against government. The poor service that results from cutting personnel also alienates taxpayers, frustrates their efforts to keep up with tax law, and makes it easier to evade the law.

2) Great interactive feature on the new Panama Canal.

3) I do get a little tired of the trope that the NRA “buys” or “owns” Members of Congress.  They don’t vote the way they do for money, but because they largely believe the same things the NRA does (and the NRA are, thus, quite happy to help keep them in office).

4) Teens should have unglamorus summer jobs.  Another parenting fail on my part I need to work on next year.  Also, I hated it at the time but I’m damn glad I spent summers working at K-Mart and in a warehouse.  That really taught me a lot I would have not otherwise learned.

5) The world’s disappearing sand.

6) An AR-15 owner defends his choice of gun.

7) Is Estonia the new Finland when it comes to education?  One thing seems clear– the success in both case comes from a strong commitment to equity.

8) Donald Trump’s ignorance helps expose the “good guy with a gun” fallacy.

9) A better way to punish malfeasant police— sue them:

But when an officer uses excessive force or makes an unlawful arrest or search, proving wrongful conduct is not enough. Under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights statute, the officer can escape liability with the special defense of qualified immunity — showing that he reasonably believed his conduct was lawful, even if it was not. And if the jury finds the officer liable, federal law does not require his employer to pay the award.

Juries, and even judges in non-jury trials, are reluctant to convict police officers of a crime, even in the face of ample evidence. With rare exceptions, they simply will not say “guilty” and risk sending an officer to prison. Suing the officer for money damages in a federal civil rights suit is the only realistic way to establish police misconduct and secure at least some vindication for victims and their families.

But Congress needs to strengthen Section 1983 in three ways. First, the defense of qualified immunity should be abolished. If an officer violates the Constitution, the victim should win the lawsuit, just as he or she wins when hit by an officer negligently driving his vehicle.

Second, the city (or county or state) that employs the officer should pay a damage award, just as a governmental employer pays for injury caused by an officer’s negligent driving. A jury would be more willing to rule against a city than to make a police officer pay out of his own pocket.

Third, the local U.S. attorney, not just the victim of the unconstitutional conduct, should be authorized to bring the suit. When federal law has been violated, a federal lawyer should act on behalf of the victim. A jury is more likely to take the matter seriously if a U.S. attorney sues than when the victim is the plaintiff, who can sometimes be perceived as a not very respectable member of the community.

10) Drum says I should stop staring at my backup camera and just consider it another window.  I already do that, so I guess I’m good.  Like any technology, just don’t over-rely upon it.

11) What little boys can learn from Disney princesses.  Safe to say my not-so-little boys have had way more exposure thanks to having a little sister.

12) A defense of Hillary Clinton’s honesty.

13) Sweden is finding out how hard it is to quit nuclear power (they shouldn’t).

14) What’s the matter with Kansas?  Just ruinous conservative Republican economic policies in full fruition.

15) How Subarus came to be the lesbian car:

In the 1990s, Subaru’s unique selling point was that the company increasingly made all-wheel drive standard on all its cars. When the company’s marketers went searching for people willing to pay a premium for all-wheel drive, they identified four core groups who were responsible for half of the company’s American sales: teachers and educators, health-care professionals, IT professionals, and outdoorsy types.Then they discovered a fifth: lesbians. “When we did the research, we found pockets of the country like Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon, where the head of the household would be a single person—and often a woman,” says Tim Bennett, who was the company’s director of advertising at the time. When marketers talked to these customers, they realized these women buying Subarus were lesbian.
“There was such an alignment of feeling, like [Subaru cars] fit with what they did,” says Paul Poux, who later conducted focus groups for Subaru. The marketers found that lesbian Subaru owners liked that the cars were good for outdoor trips, and that they were good for hauling stuff without being as large as a truck or SUV. “They felt it fit them and wasn’t too flashy,” says Poux.

16) Kristof says he was wrong about welfare reform.

17) He also has a nice column on our criminal justice system’s deplorable war on poor people.

18) It ain’t easy being an anti-gun advocate in gun-loving America.

19) Enjoyed this ranking of Pixar movies.

20) Jeffrey Toobin on the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling (it’s a big deal).

21) Walter Dellinger makes as succinct and persuasive case as I’ve seen for Obama’s immigration executive order.  That said, whether the Supreme Court decision in this case was right or not, I find it eminently reasonable.  No matter your position, Obama was clearly pushing at the boundaries of executive authority here.  Maybe it should have been found on the Constitutional side, but given the boundary-pushing nature, I think there’s plenty of reasonable justification for either outcome.

Quick hits

1) Jamelle Bouie on Obama and gun control.

2) The fact that the US is the only modern nation to not adopt the metric system is so representative of the worst of American exceptionalism.  That said, we actually do already use the metric system a ton.

3) A serious look at why professional male athletes in various sports do or do not wear protective cups.  All I can say is there would clearly be a lot of child-less hockey players if not for them.

4) So, the kids today don’t like using periods.  Call me an old fogey, but I’m a really big fan of a very clear visual marker of where one sentence concludes and another begins.

5) Jeffrey Goldberg with a really good take on what Obama actually believes about radical Islam.

The fundamental difference between Obama and Trump on issues related to Islamist extremism (apart from the obvious, such as that, unlike Trump, Obama a) has killed Islamist terrorists; b) regularly studies the problem and allows himself to be briefed by serious people about the problem; and c) is not racist or temperamentally unsuitable for national leadership) is that Trump apparently believes that two civilizations are in conflict. Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.

6) Mark Joseph Stern argues that the Stanford rape case demonstrates massive liberal hypocrisy on issues of basic fairness in the criminal justice system. He’s right.

7) Neck tattoos as a signalling device.

8) Best-named SuperPac ever?

9) Ron Fournier lets loose on Trump:

You could argue that it’s important to give the enemy a name. OK, let’s do that:

Islamic extremism. Islamic extremism. Islamic extremism.

Radical Islam. Radical Islam. Radical Islam.

Wait for it… No, ISIS didn’t crumble.

You’re wrong, Donald Trump. Words don’t win wars.

But your words do undermine the commander-in-chief. Your words do exploit fears, stir prejudices, and divide Americans. Your words might even win you the election.

Which is the point, right? In March, you said talk about terrorist attacks “is probably why I’m number one in the polls.”

Forty-nine innocent people dead and you took a victory lap in their blood.

Congratulations.

10) But not quite as well as genuine #neverTrumper, Rick Wilson.

11) Very thorough and fair look at the difficulties in addressing America’s gun problem in the Atlantic.

12) A big problem– way too easy for straw buyers to get away with it.  That said, if we actually had better laws (i.e., every transfer or theft of a gun had to be reported), it would be easy to prosecute them.  And straw buyers are a huge problem.

13) One of those oh-so-good viral posts floating around the internet of late:

“How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion — mandatory 48-hr waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence, an ultrasound wand up the ass (just because). Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.
It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?”

14)  Donald Trump sure knows how to feed the conspiracy theorists.  There’s something going on here!

15) In the headline says it all category, “For every gun used in self-defense, six more are used to commit a crime.”

16) So that quick hit last week about math suggesting there is almost surely alien intelligence?  Then again, maybe not.  It’s all about the assumptions.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This post about words not to use around your teenage children is dope.

2) Clickbait for me– a post looking back at the technology (massive laptops, etc.)  in Beverly Hills 90210

3) There are more white voters out there than we realize.  Maybe good news for Trump.  But probably not enough.

4) In Oklahoma, cops are no longer restricting their civil asset forfeiture (i.e., legal thievery) to cash but taking electronic payments as well.

5) The fact that it is not currently the law that financial advisers are required to look out for the interests of their clients, not themselves, is just wrong.  The fact that Republicans are helping them fight to keep it this way is truly appalling.

6) How academic leaders are actually responsible for the chilling of free speech on campus.

But there is a different, though equally important, reason many students today are willing to suppress free expression on campus. And the fault largely lies at the feet of many of the country’s academic leaders. Students and their families have been increasingly treated as “customers.” Presidents of colleges and universities have been too reluctant to “offend” their customers, which may help explain why they so often yield to wrong-headed demands by students. Courage at universities is, unfortunately, a rare commodity—and it’s particularly rare among leaders of institutions pressured by students to act in a politically correct way.

It seems that the vast majority of presidents and provosts of the finest U.S. universities have not seized this moment of concern voiced by students as a teaching moment—a moment to instruct and discuss with students what college is about. Too many academic leaders are obsessed with the security of their own jobs and their desire to protect the reputation of their institution, and too few are sufficiently interested in making statements that may offend students but that show them why they are at these colleges—and why free expression is a core and enabling value of any higher-learning institution that considers itself of the first rank. Of course, there are strong academic leaders who do encourage open discussions of issues raised by students while also speaking out against restrictions on campus speech, against speech codes, safe-space psychology, and micro-aggressions. But they are too few and far between.

7) Are Republican Trump supporters modern-day Neville Chamberlains?

8) This is just a great break-down of a the action leading to a goal (Jermaine Jones for US vs. Costa Rica).

9) Wonkblog summarizes Clinton’s policy agenda.

10) Jon Cohn  performs a public service by consolidating all the worst stuff Trump has said.

11) I honestly suspect that during the campaign we’re going to see a lot to undermine Trump’s reputation as a great businessman.  Atlantic City casinos are a good place to start:

His audacious personality and opulent properties brought attention — and countless players — to Atlantic City as it sought to overtake Las Vegas as the country’s gambling capital. But a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing. [emphasis mine]

But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.

12) The latest evidence on the existence of planets in the universe seems to make it very, very likely that– at least at some point– there has been other intelligent life in the universe.

13) Are Molten Salt Reactors the energy of the future?  Maybe.  If not them, I think chances are pretty good that we will have some truly amazing energy breakthroughs within the next decade or two.

14) Seth Masket says at least one American political party is working:

“There are always internal divisions within any party, but divisions in 2016 in the Democratic Party are relatively mild,” said Georgetown University political scientist Hans Noel, co-author of “The Party Decides,” via e-mail.

I think the main thing that differentiates the Democrats and the Republicans is that the divide in the Republican Party was among party elites and activists, as well as voters. It was a divide between the Cruz/House Freedom Caucus wing and the Bush/Boehner wing. It was hard to bridge in Congress, and it turned out to be impossible to bridge in the electorate. Donald Trump thus took advantage of this divide and captured control of some of the voters, mostly from the Cruz wing but not exclusively. But the Democrats have been largely united behind Clinton from the start, and the dissatisfaction among voters, while deep, is not widespread.

15) There’s a long evolutionary war going on between snakes and newts.

 

16) Silicon Valley is brilliant television.  You should watch it.  Here’s how they keep it grounded in the real Silicon Valley.

17) Drum says it’s time we stop pretending Trump is about economic anxiety.  He’s right:

“Economic anxiety” as a campaign issue has always been a red herring. And even if you back off a bit and try to limit it solely to the notion that whites are losing ground to minorities, the evidence still doesn’t back you up. You can cherry pick here and there if you want to make that case, but it’s tough sledding. Basically, everyone’s been in the same boat, and blacks and Hispanics haven’t really made up any ground versus whites.

So white anger isn’t really about blacks and Hispanics taking their jobs. Or about blacks and Hispanics making more money and leaving whites behind. Nor do whites have any special economic reason to be more pessimistic about the future than blacks and Hispanics.

If you want to get to the root of this white anxiety, you have to go to its roots. It’s cultural, not economic. It’s demographics, not paychecks. It’s about not being the boss anymore. It’s about lower-class white communities now exhibiting pathologies—drug abuse, low marriage rates, etc.—that were once reasons for them to look down on blacks.

18) Good Lord is Charles Pierce fun to read– especially on Trump:

So, the annual Family and Freedom Summit is going on in Washington, as various Bible-banging grifters and god-bothering Pharisees scour the gospels to find the passage where Jesus gives a pass to vulgar talking yams as long as they can put, say, Pennsylvania in play.

(Those inconvenient speeches about camels and a needle’s eye are readily skipped.)

Anyway, He, Trump stopped by today to assure them that his faith is indeed huge, and that it is the greatest faith anyone ever has had, and that his house has many mansions and they all have gold-plated plumbing fixtures. The presumptive Republican nominee read some words that somebody else wrote for him, once again appearing to have been shot with a tranquilizer dart prior to taking the podium. He was preceded on stage by Ralph Reed, the famous casino bagman and future timeshare owner in Hell, who impressed upon the faithful the need to vote for a guy who thinks they’re even bigger suckers than Reed does.

 He, Trump then came out and his speech was approximately as coherent theologically as a pile of leaves is coherent as a tree.

19a) Two ILRIA’s this week.  Frum on how Trump is violating the “seven guardrails of democracy” and eroding established norms that are essential and fundamental to the health of our nation.

19b) And Ezra Klein making basically the same important and accurate case, minus the metaphor.  Read ’em.  This is why Trump should never, ever get anywhere near the presidency.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Could Republicans please stop trying to win elections by making it harder to vote?!  Ohio’s voter-roll purge.

2) Good take on the Gorilla news and our “parent-shaming culture.  And the take in the NYT Well blog.

3) Life, indeed, is really hard out there for adjunct faculty.  Though, this is very much a supply and demand issue.  As long as thousands of PhD’s are willing to sell their services for $2000-$4000 per class it’s not surprising that universities would be willing to take advantage of this.

4) Our War on Drugs, sub-war on Cocaine, subjected to costs-benefit.  Needless to say, the American taxpayer has been ripped off on this:

American taxpayers got a dismal return on their $4.3 billion investment in the Colombian drug war between 2000 and 2o08, according to a new analysis by economists at MIT and Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes.

In the paper, which will be published in the June issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Daniel Mejia and Pascual Restrepo analyzed the cost to U.S. taxpayers of the two big U.S.-funded anti-cocaine efforts in Colombia: eradication of coca plants via the aerial spraying of herbicides, and interdiction efforts to block cocaine transit routes and seize shipments of cocaine. These efforts took place under the umbrella of Plan Colombia, a decade-long U.S.-backed initiative to fight the drug trade and organized crime in Colombia…

Mejia and Restrepo found that between 2000 and 2008, it cost the U.S. government $940,000 to eliminate a single kilogram of cocaine from the domestic market via herbicide spraying in Colombia. Eliminating that kilo via interdiction was considerably cheaper, at $175,000.

5) The headline says it all, “Most For-Profit Students Wind Up Worse Off Than If They Had Never Enrolled in the First Place.”

6) Speaking of students getting ripped off– Trump U.

7) Perhaps the wannabe swindler-in-chief does not want to release his tax returns because he’s not nearly as rich as he wants everybody to think.

8) Maybe Oregon is more generous than most states with welfare because it is mostly white:

But Soss and his co-authors have also found a more troubling explanation for the differences between Oregon’s strong safety net and those in other states. Their research shows that states with a higher percentage of minorities on the welfare rolls are more likely to be punitive, implementing policies that reduce welfare caseloads, such as strict time limits on TANF;  family caps that deny benefits to additional children; and benefits disqualification for small violations, like a child’s poor school performance. By contrast, states with poor populations that are predominately white are more likely to be generous, adopting the federal government’s five-year lifetime limit, waving work requirements if participants have young children, and continuing to give benefits to children even if the parents reach the time limits.

The demographics of Oregon, where the population is 86.6 percent white, may help explain why the state’s safety net is so strong. In 1995, the year before welfare reform passed, 79 percent of families receiving welfare were white in Oregon. In Arkansas, by contrast, which is 80 percent white, 55 percent of families receiving welfare in 1995 were black and 44 percent were white. People, it seems, are much less giving when it comes to helping out people who don’t look like them.

The case of Oregon highlights what can happen when federal programs are turned over to the states: They help some Americans more than others, depending on where people live, and, often, depending on the color of their skin.

9) You don’t hear a lot about Ben Stein these days.  In this Guardian interview he basically says that Trump is horrible on the economy; Hillary is way better; but he’ll vote for Trump anyway because “I think he does personify a kind of national pride which I think has been lacking in the Obama days and would be terribly lacking under Bernie Sanders and terribly lacking under Hillary Clinton.”  Idiot.

10) Chait makes the case that Trump’s lies and his authoritarianism are basically the same thing.

11) LA Times on the UCLA shooting:

In this case, it was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America. And so two families, and two circles of friends, and a community of students and faculty are left to their grief, and their confusion, and maybe a touch more fear than usual at the recognition that violence can and will strike so close to home.

Ultimately, we should be glad this was a tragedy for fewer people than feared when the phrase “campus shooting” first popped up on screens. But that society will just shrug this off is tragic in its own way. That the nation accepts gun violence as commonplace, as a reasonable trade-off for some romanticized view of every gun owner as a soldier against tyranny, is the continuing tragedy.

And so the deaths will mount.

12) Elon Musk argues that it is more likely than not we are all living in a really sophisticated simulation.

13) The case for dogs originating not just once, but multiple times.  Makes sense to me.

14) Jamelle Bouie argues that Donald Trump is flailing.

15) James Surowiecki with a really nice take on Prospect Theory and support for Trump:

Trump is playing to one of the most powerful emotions in our economic life—what behavioral economists call loss aversion. The basic idea, which was pioneered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, is that people feel the pain of losses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains. Empirical studies suggest that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. So people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost…

The other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious: offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a fifty per cent chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing. However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically. Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a fifty per cent chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—the opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars. As one study puts it, “People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover losses.” In the real world, this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet. For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster. Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

16) Really thorough take on the Constitutional crisis that is the appalling lack of resources for criminal defense in Louisiana.

17) Noted torture-apologist and all-around embarrassment as public servant and human being (and former Attorney General), Alberto Gonzales, takes to the Washington Post to defend Trump’s anti-Hispanic racism.  It’s as pathetic as you’d expect.

Bonus quick hits!

Read a lot of good stuff this weekend and didn’t want my list to grow too big for next week, so…

1) It’s not easy being in solitary confinement, especially if you are already mentally ill.  The good news is the NC is cutting back on it’s over-use of solitary.

2) The reality of prostate cancer is finally making it through to many men as “active surveillance” has finally (and quite appropriately) caught up with aggressive treatment.

3) Elizabeth Warren knows how to take on Donald Trump.  Indeed.

Observe, then, the felicity with which this sense of purpose allows her to tear into Trump as she did at a gala Tuesday night.

“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up more property on the cheap,” Warren said, touching on one of the more meaningful Trump opposition sound bites to emerge recently.

“What kind of a man does that? What kind of a man roots for people to get thrown out of their house? What kind of a man roots for people to get thrown out of their jobs? To root for people to lose their pensions? To root for two little girls in Clark County, Nevada, to end up living out of a van?

“What kind of a man does that? I’ll tell you exactly what kind of a man does that: It is a man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure moneygrubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt so long as he makes a profit off it. What kind of man does that? A man who will never be president of the United States.”

She then lit into him for wanting to eliminate the Dodd–Frank financial reform law,something he has always said he would do but which the political world has only recently seemed to notice: “Donald Trump is worried about helping poor little Wall Street? Let me find the world’s smallest violin to play a sad, sad song.”

4) Addicted to a treatment for addiction?  Sadly, many person seem to develop an addiction for Suboxone.  That said, way better than being addicted to heroin.

5) Normally, after a recession we invest in our infrastructure.  This time– not at all so (and, yes, the GOP Congress is to blame).

6) Tyler Cowen on Donald Trump’s appeal to “brutes.”

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well…

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority.  Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here?  And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem.  It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true.  But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two.  It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.  Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done.  But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick.  Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus.  But how to do that?  That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it.  It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes.  It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure.  And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

7) Why Greek statues of men have small penises.  Actually, quite interesting.

8) Loved this essay on why you have married the wrong person.  I don’t actually think I have, but this strikes me as pretty spot-on:

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

WE need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

This philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage. It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

9) Drum’s liberal heresy– campaign finance reform really isn’t suck a big deal.  I think he’s more right than wrong.

10) Nick Kristoff on the liberal blind spot.  After reading some of the comments, I’d have to say (noted Libertarian) Mike Munger’s take is spot-on, “It is remarkable that so many commenters insist of proving Kristoff’s claims to be correct.”

11) China’s aging population represents a huge problem for their future global competitiveness.  In the US, much less so.  Why?  In a word– immigration.

12) Love this story about White House photographer Pete Souza featuring tons of great photos of Obama.

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