Republican conspiracy nutball may be choosing Texas schoolbooks

True Believer Ride-Along

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who claims President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his twenties is the favorite for a spot on the Texas Board of Education, which approves curriculum and textbooks.

Mary Lou Bruner, a 68-year-old retired schoolteacher, has said climate change is a Marxist hoax, evolution is atheist propaganda, and that baby dinosaurs rode on Noah’s Ark and became extinct after the flood cleared out their vegetation.

The East Texas woman nearly clinched the Republican nomination outright Tuesday night for an open seat on the powerful State Board of Education. Bruner received 48 percent support, enough to propel her to a runoff election with her closest opponent, who trailed her by nearly 40,000 votes.

The winner of the Republican matchup is expected to easily beat the Democrat in November’s general election in a state where voters have consistently rejected statewide Democratic candidates for almost a generation.

The 15-member state board sets policies and standards for some 5 million Texas schoolchildren, and approves curriculum and textbooks for public schools. The board also exerts influence on publishers nationwide, as approval or exclusion of a school text can affect sales by the hundreds of thousands…

Bruner campaigned on a platform of a “return to traditional education” and “conservative curriculum standards aligned with Texas values.”

Texas values will guarantee you a passing grade into 6th grade. In Texas.

Medicare scammers steal $60 billion a year — Meet a bounty hunter

John MininnoPhoto/João Canziani

John Mininno slaps two pieces of paper onto an overhead projector. “Look at this,” he says. “You see how one form is a photocopy of the other—with just the date changed? It’s exactly the same paper!” The printouts are mere insurance forms, but Mininno is genuinely pissed off about them. “They’re allowed to bill for that procedure again six months after they first provide it. That date is six months to the day!”

Not everyone can get this worked up about insurance forms. But to Mininno, these are a combination of smoking gun and a slap in the face. Together they clearly show that someone is ripping off Medicare. But perhaps what’s worse is that someone is being really lazy about it.

If Willie Sutton had to choose a criminal career today, he’d be ripping off Medicare too. As the bank robber supposedly said: That’s where the money is. The program spends more than $600 billion a year on health care for 54 million people, most of them seniors. It is a massive pool of underguarded funds ripe for skimming. By the government’s own accounting, fraudsters scammed $60 billion from Medicare in 2014, and the losses are growing. Since 2007 more than 2,300 health care providers have been charged with fleecing Medicare, and more than 1,800 defendants have been convicted of felony offenses, ranging from claiming phantom services to performing unnecessary surgeries.

Scams are run so often, by so many people, that dedicated government investigators can’t keep up: In 2014 prosecutions initiated by the government led to a mere 31 settlements yielding $88 million in fines. Luckily, there is another defense against Medicare fraud: whistle-blower lawsuits. Under the federal government’s false claims statute, any insider can sue a company that’s providing fraudulent services, on the government’s behalf. If the whistle-blower lawyers are successful, the plaintiffs collect 15 to 30 percent of the settlement as a bounty. In 2014 there were 469 of these health care fraud settlements—many involving huge pharmaceutical corporations and hospital networks—resulting in $2.2 billion in fines.

The problem is that even with this financial incentive, whistle-blowers can be skittish about coming forward and often are ill-prepared to present solid evidence…Professional whistle-blower lawyers are much better at arguing a convincing case. But lawyers aren’t always the best investigators. Sometimes finding an insider requires a nose for mischief, a gift for persuasion, and the technical chops to identify nonobvious patterns in impenetrable thickets of diagnostic codes and billing data. Sometimes it takes a bounty hunter. Someone like John Mininno

RTFA. Some of it is hilarious. Some is about how interesting and useful skilled data mining can be. All of it is about crime. The most meaningful thing about that crime is that the people who pat themselves on the back for providing healthcare to Americans are host to one of the largest class of criminals in America. These are doctors and nurses, hospital administrators, insurance companies and local medical clinics. They provide healthcare for every illness from diabetes to bipolar disorder. They steal from taxpayers.

On a personal note, just one more example of why I’d be working at extending my grounding in computational analysis – if I were starting out working for a living as a geek, today. From scientific research to forensic data mining, the craft is fascinating.

Republicans now control the Air Quality Board in a polluted region — scrap the regulations!

Click to enlargePhoto by Robert Donovan

On Friday, Southern California’s air quality board voted during a closed-door meeting to forcefully roll back pollution regulations in favor of regulations backed by oil refineries and other polluters. At the same time, the board also voted to dismiss their executive officer Barry Wallerstein, who had presided over the board since 1997.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board manages pollution in a four-county region of Southern California, including some of the most polluted areas in the country. Under Wallerstein’s tenure, the number of days that air quality exceeded federal standards dropped by a third, but environmental and public health groups are quick to note that Southern California’s pollution levels are still far from meeting federal health standards…

Republicans took control of the air quality board in February, and new members have not been shy about their intentions to bring a more industry-friendly approach to pollution control. All seven of the board’s Republicans voted to dismiss Wallerstein, narrowly beating out opposition from the board’s five Democrats and one independent.

The board also voted eight to five not to reconsider a controversial December vote, which approved the adoption of an industry-backed plan to regulate pollution from refineries, power plants, and other major facilities. The plan would delay installation of pollution controls at the region’s six major oil refineries, something that environmental and public health groups worry will slow progress toward meaningful pollution reductions in the area. The regulations are backed by Western States Petroleum Association and other industry groups.

This is what pigs do when they are put in charge of the farmyard.

Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, who popularized @ symbol, has died at age 74. Here is his description of that milestone:

During the summer and autumn of 1971, I was part of a small group of programmers who were developing a time-sharing system called TENEX that ran on Digital PDP-10 computers. We were supporting a larger group working on natural language. Earlier, I had worked on the Network Control Protocol (NCP) for TENEX and network programs such as an experimental file transfer program called CPYNET.

I was making improvements to the local inter-user mail program called SNDMSG. Single-computer electronic mail had existed since at least the early 1960’s and SNDMSG was an example of that. SNDMSG allowed a user to compose, address, and send a message to other users’ mailboxes.

A mailbox was simply a file with a particular name. It’s only special property was its protection which only allowed other users to append to the file. That is, they could write more material onto the end of the mailbox, but they couldn’t read or overwrite what was already there. The idea occurred to me that CPYNET could append material to a mailbox file just as readily as SNDMSG could. SNDMSG could easily incorporate the code from CPYNET and direct messages through a network connection to remote mailboxes in addition to appending messages to local mailbox files.

The missing piece was that the experimental CPYNET protocol had no provision for appending to a file; it could just send and receive files. Adding the missing piece was a no-brainer — just a minor addition to the protocol. I don’t recall the protocol details, but appending to a file was the same as writing to a file except for the mode in which the file was opened.

Next, the CPYNET code was incorporated into SNDMSG. It remained to provide a way to distinguish local mail from network mail. I chose to append an at sign and the host name to the user’s (login) name. I am frequently asked why I chose the at sign, but the at sign just makes sense. The purpose of the at sign (in English) was to indicate a unit price (for example, 10 items @ $1.95). I used the at sign to indicate that the user was “at” some other host rather than being local.

The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side. The only physical connection they had (aside from the floor they sat on) was through the ARPANET. I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them. Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar. When I was satisfied that the program seemed to work, I sent a message to the rest of my group explaining how to send messages over the network. The first use of network email announced its own existence.

These first messages were sent in late 1971. The next release of TENEX went out in early 1972 and included the version of SNDMSG with network mail capabilities. The CPYNET protocol was soon replaced with a real file transfer protocol having specific mail handling features. Later, a number of more general mail protocols were developed.