Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A visit to Trump country: the economy in most of it is not doing well



I did a little citizen journalism this past weekend in the Pittsburgh area.  Some of it is documented on the “Bills Media Reviews” Wordpress blog – but I want to make a note that I drove through some towns in far western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio that are not doing very well.

Oddly, there is a nuclear power plant (West Beaver) near the Ohio line in Midland-ShippingPort, PA.  There is a new performing arts center in Midland.  But the businesses in most of the towns around there look decayed, and it was hard to find much that was open (Monday, November 12, legal holiday, middle of the day).  East Liverpool, Ohio, I found a diner with delicious hot dogs downtown and pretty crowded, but not much else downtown seemed to be open.

Generally, I didn’t find many major franchise or brand businesses – like fast food, major gas stations and convenience stores, major pharmacies or department stores (CVS, Walmart), etc. 
I have another blog devoted to trademark law, so when I see an areas without the presence of major chain store brands – which people hate, I know – that’s a sign of economic depression and poor employment.  Likewise, the infrastructure, and roads, are not in good shape, even street signs are wrong.

  
This area is Trump country.  Everybody here hates the elites and voted for him.  In a few towns, Trump may have saved some jobs, and he may have helped some specialized businesses in Ohio (I have a relative who owns a process-controller software company and he says Trump has been good for him).  But generally, the working people with relatively less education in these areas are still doing very poorly in “Trump” country.  The economies of most of these rust belt towns are not good.
So what do people in these towns need?  Not college education.  Vocational training?  Ask “Economic Invincibility”. 


 I don't think people living here really sit around and get fake news from Russian bots on Facebook. But they may have been fooled into believing that protectionism could work for them.  Protectionism just doesn't work, ever. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The controversy over Whitaker's "appointment" as acting AG by Trump



The appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is raising serious legal and practical concerns (after the sacking of Jeff Sessions). 


He is reported to have said he doesn’t consider Marbury v Madison (from high school American history) valid – judicial review.  He is said to deny separation of church and state.  We don’t know why Trump would appoint him except out of a superficial idea of “loyalty” (as earlier with James Comey), to hinder the Mueller investigation.
  
CNBC reports (Kevin Breuninger) on this with a detailed letter from Senator (Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer to President Trump, here

Furthermore the New York Times focuses on the constitutional issues, saying that Whitaker must go through the Senate confirmation process, in a story by Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, here

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Protesters go over the line near a Fox host's home



                  

Media sources report that protesters attempted a breaking and entering of Tucker Carlson’s (Fox News) home Wednesday night.

  
The Washington Post has a detailed story by Allyson Chiu, Perry Stein and Emma Brown.  The home is in NW Washington DC but media sources will not disclose more details.  Media sources report that Carlson and possibly other conservative journalists were doxxed.  Twitter and Facebook have removed their posts and Twitter has suspended at least one group (Smash Racism DC”).
  
Carlson’s wife called police while her husband was at work.  The acts committed could include vandalism or destruction of property and attempted breaking and entering (could have led to a home invasion).  If police have identified perpetrators, prosecution (for crimes committed inside the District of Columbia) by a United States attorney would be possible.  (Grand juries for these things meet in secret – I was robbed on the Metro once in 2013, really lost very little [but someone made $25000 of fake Metro cards on my credit card quickly before it was cancelled] – the perpetrator was not prosecuted for my robbery but jailed for another one.)

Tim Pool got into an argument on Twitter with Matthew Yglesias of Vox, who sympathized a bit with the protestors on wanting rich people to know what it feels like to be in danger (like of police profiling, maybe). 

I’ve never gotten the personal impression that Tucker Carlson is particularly extreme on the Right. 
  
However the level-headed Wikipedia reports some serious stuff about his past statements.
  
Listen to Pool’s analysis on the video.  This only gets worse. But he notes that protests near the homes of public officials have always happened. 
   
There are also reports of multiple protests tonight (John Bowden, The Hill) over fears that Mueller’s investigation of Trump will be impeded by the new interim AG, Whitaker, who denies that the Russians affected the 2016 elections. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Trump's first reaction to midterm results: start a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre; there could be more soon



Here is a pretty definitive score on the results of the midterms, from Vox, as of 11 PM EST Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

Rick Scott beat Bill Nelson in FL, so David Hogg didn’t win on his home field!  (Hogg can be a Senator in 2031.)   Scott is probably pressured somewhat to moderation, however.


Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions (who had started to mellow a little) and might end the Mueller probe (MSNBC)  Matt Whittaker acts as AG.  Republicans warn Trump not to stop the Mueller probe (Guardian).  Democrats will have subpoena power. 
  
A slow-motion Saturday night massacre?

Monday, November 05, 2018

The mid-term examination for all of us occurs Tuesday; Washington Post has major editorial on Internet governance



Okay, Tuesday November 6, 2018 is the big day. 

O, boy, I remember a math course in grad school where on the first day the professor say, “your grade is based on a mid-term and a final exam”.  So Tuesday is Donald Trump’s mid-term.


But this is about “The People”.  The legislature.  It sounds more likely that Democrats will take the house, because the early voting returns suggest that more young people are voting.  I do congratulate David Hogg, and his accomplishments in the voting arena may turn out to be more important than the gun control issue.  And, personally, I hope he attends Stanford next fall (Jack Andraka graduates next spring).

David cannot serve in the House until after the 2026 election, when he would be 26. That raises another issue.  If you want to do something about climate change, you need to elect young adults now, because they have the “skin in the game” to live through the consequences after my generation is gone.

I’m “all set”, as they say at Starbucks when they had you your food as your charge is approved.  (Even if the salesperson roots for the Boston Red Sox.)  I registered in Fairfax County a week after I moved in 2017 and got the card in the mail with the polling place, and it’s an 800 foot walk from my condo.


Because of the circumstances with my own projects I haven’t made time for any sustained voluntarism commitment.  So I have not registered voters or driven them to the polls. Actually, at 75, I don’t think I should use a car for any future volunteer activities.  I just vote, in every election, every primary.

We should remember the sacrifice in 1964 of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi, when I was 21, during a troubling period of my own life.  

This would normally go on a different blog, but I want to note right now that “Gab” is back up and that the Washington Post has a major editorial this morning on whether Internet infrastructure companies (as opposed to social media hosts) feel a responsibility to monitor content and who can use their utilities.  I have an extended comment on the Post site. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Smerconish, David Brooks disagree on how America's polarization persists



Saturday morning, Michael Smerconish on CNN said that most Americans are in the middle politically – they want health care to cover pre-existing conditions, and family leave, want some sensible moderation on immigration (including DACA to be properly fixed by Congress), and to leave people alone personally (gay rights and transgender) and probably want some gun control and possibly limits on hate speech – but it’s the extremes, who make up 15% of the population, who keep getting all the media attention. Columbia Journalism Review talks about this (June 2018) in a piece by Peter Vernon, here

Yet, in a NYT column called “The Retrenchment Election”, David Brooks characterized all of us as remaining polarized, rural v. urban, here


I think a group called Better Angels would be included to agree with Smerconish (who is a “conservative” of the right ilk – do your (actuarial) math first before making policy proposals and see what you can afford).
  
The “Better Angels” video above was streamed at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where I went to grad school (MA, Math) in the 1960s.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Observance for Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue victims in Washington DC



News2share (Ford Fischer) has YouTube video of the memorial observances vigil for victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, outside the White House.


I’ve driven the Squirrel Hill tunnel many times.  I visited the neighborhood most recently in November 2012 (had been to Ohio the day before).

We are getting into a real bind on this one, where the permissive policies regarding the ability to post online speech does expose the public to unpredictable risk from unusually unstable and combative people.
  
There is also the issue of a comprehensive explanation of “anti-semitism” where the world “globalism” is, as Anderson Cooper explained, a trigger for some people. Most of us are not familiar with this. Jeffrey Herf has a detailed explanation in the Washington Post here

Dara Lind explains also how the refugee and asylum seeker issue fit into the event, for Vox, here.
  
The group at the Tree of Life synagogue was called HIAS. 

“The Tree of Life” was a major Terrence Malick film for Fox Searchligh in 2011.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Megyn Kelly issue went deeper than I first thought; Trump's response to threats today seen as perfunctory and insincere



There was some flak today about Megyn Kelly’s apology.

  
I had never heard about the “blackface” meme as it was used in the 19th Century, so at first I was surprised by it.  On Twitter I saw this tweet by Tim Pool on the idea that was about “feelings” and gave a superficial answer.

But later I learned about the 19th Century issue.  Vox explains it in a piece by P.R. Lockhart, referring to the Today Show in NBC. 

On CNN, Chris Cuomo said that everyone should haveknown this for the past fifty years (including me). 

Today was a very difficult day because of the terror threats (which recall 2001). CNN is very dissatisfied with Trump’s shallow statements tonight. I don’t want to be too explicit, but Don Lemon discussed his own personal security concerns now (tonight on CNN), which are unprecedented and result from Donald Trump’s implied disrespect for the rule of law and belief that tribalism (“loyalty”, “nationalism”) is a higher calling.
   
But I know even from my own history how easy it is to attract the wrath of others if they think I am not in my right place (as to publicity) and if they simultaneously feel personally “left behind” by privilege (of people “like me”), who may outflank or lowball them.  Being in a minority is often very much a matter of relativity and perspective.  I haven’t been in Trump’s specific crosshairs like many others. But there is plenty of irony in my own life to go around.



Update: Oct 25

Tim Pool has a video on her apparent ouster at NBC. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Trump administration tries to have it both ways on pre-existing conditions with the 1332's


The Trump administration is punting on pre-existing conditions, by pretending it can let the states decide.

  
Dylan Scott explains all this on Vox today with an ambiguous title, “The Trump admin has cooked up a new plan to bring back pre-existing conditions”, link.
  
The trick is so-called 1332 waivers, which would allow states to use Obamacare subsidies to fund skimpy alternative plans, which young and healthy people are likely to use. But a state could also use it for single payer within the state.  States have used it for reinsurance pools already, which is a good idea.  Susan Collins has pushed this in Maine.
   
 Here's something I found on PrEP, the copay accumulator concept. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Georgia's exact match voter registration law; North Dakota's problems with street addresses on reservations



Ted Enamorado published a detailed “Money Cage”  analysis in the Washington Post showing that the “exact match” law in Georgia’s voter registration process can disenfranchise almost a million minority voters. 

The law causes registered voters to become unregistered with small changes in their clientization information – name, or conceivably address formatting.


In North Dakota, problems occur because some tribal members don’t have street addresses in reservations.

I guess David Hogg can get active on these problems. Valerie Jarrett on Van Jones talks about "When we all vote" on CNN. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Conservatives start to argue that people living in coastal communities should look seriously at climate change now



William Murray (R Street Institute, energy policy) argues that conservatives and libertarians can work on the climate change issue by working first with people who live in coastal communities. 

People who live in red or purple states with extensive low-lying coastal communities (especially the Gulf Coast) would be politically supportive of work trying to reverse the rate of climate change and would accept the science, he argues.
  
He also argues for stronger building codes in coastal areas, such as the house that survived in Mexico Beach.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Education and affirmative action: Charlottesville, Harvard


Erica Green and Annie Waldman have a major booklet on Pro Publica and on the front page of the New York Times Wednesday. October 17, 2018, “Charlottesville’s Other Jim Crow Legacy: Separate and Unequal Education”, link

The results show especially in AP course participation and results, and in work below grade level, mostly the result of de facto segregation of the past, grants for private schools, and actual private education.
   
As someone who has subbed, it’s still impossible for me to get behind remedying things just by race.


Anemona Hartocollis looks into the question of “elitism or egalitarianism” in the Harvard admissions case, here. l  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

House in Mexico Beach FL designed for 200 mph winds survives hurricane well


It looks like it costs “only” 25% more to build a house with concrete and steel (and on pillars) to survive a 200 mph hurricane.


Not too many windows are allowed.
  
Should building codes expect this for people who build houses on the beach?

Similar construction is possible in Tornado Alley.

 The Washington Post reports that low-cost reinforcements encouraged by building codes did save some other homes, and five homes on the coast built by Habitat for Humanity fared rather well (story).

By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aerial Survey - NOAA, Public Domain, Link

Monday, October 15, 2018

California power company cuts power north of Sacramento due to high winds to prevent wildfires



San Francisco Gate reports that Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting off electricity for as long as 24 hours in some areas for up to 60000 customers in several counties north of San Francisco.   The reason is to reduce wildfire risks given high winds and drought in these areas.  These counties include Napa county and the wine country, which I visited in 1995. Here is the story by Peter Fimrite. 
    
This is the first time I have heard of a major power shutdown intended to prevent wildfires.


I saw the aftermath of a small wildfire near Apple Hill, CA as I drove east on US 50 on Sunday, Sept 23 (from Reno) back to Sacramento and later the Bay Area, while on vacation.  I believe that fire had been caused by sparks from a flat tire and one or two homes were heavily damaged.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In NYC, extremists fight while NYPD watches; in Portland OR, Antifa shuts downtown and harasses drivers while police do nothing after a police shooting and while a "prayer group" meets


We see increasing combativeness in some cities by both the extreme Left and some of the alt-Right, and police departments look the other way.
  
In NYC, the “Proud boys” beat up the far-Left (Antifa?) activists who vandalized a GOP facility, BuzzFeed story 
  
  
And Portland Or radical Left protestors closed down traffic without a permit after shooting, and harassed a 74-year old man who tried to drive past him.  The Portland mayor supported the police after the fact, with no real explanation, as in a Washington Times story.  There seems to have been more than one incident.  A right wing “prayer group” seems to have triggered one of them.  Around Sept. 30 the shooting of Patrick Kimmons triggered other demonstrations (Oregon Live, OPB). 
  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Acute flaccid myelitis in children seems to be a growing public health problem



The Centers for Disease Control has a detailed information page on increased incidence of AFM, or acute flaccid myelitis, in children. 
   
No specific new viruses have been consistently found yet in the spinal fluid, stool or blood of patients.  It’s more likely that enteroviruses (like polio) or some arboviruses (mosquitoes) could cause disease like this, partly as an immune reaction.


It may be a virus that normally causes only the most innocuous symptoms (GI or respiratory) in adults and is easily repelled by normal immune systems.  So it may be have like an opportunistic infection in some people.

There have been similar outbreaks in the past.  Some children seem to recover completely, others don’t.


Some viral infections, even flu, can cause a temporary sense of weakness as part of the “malaise” that goes with an immune response.

It’s always been a mystery why I did not develop limb muscle strength normally as a boy in the 1950s.  I had measles around my seventh birthday (in 1950) but notes from my first grade teacher indicate evidence of a problem before.  Has a virus like this been around before? Could I have had very mild polio and not known it?

Could a virus like this have any relation to ALS, which a cousin died from recently?
  
Interesting.  I have my annual physical coon.  

Monday, October 08, 2018

New report on climate change demands quick reversal in course by U.S., and passes Trump by



A new report on climate change, issued by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, text here, hit the streets today, on the Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples Day) holiday.

The New York Times has a booklet-length piece by Coral Davenport, describing a strong risk of a crisis by 2040 (when I will be 97).  The gist of the report is that the damage to the world previously thought to require 2 degrees C (Paris accord which Trump pulled out from in May 2017) now would happen with 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F).


David Roberts of Vox describes what a “no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like” today here

He points out that we have no real BECCS industry yet, and talks a lot about negative emissions.
  
There is a lot here about energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrification. The most wasteful consumer habit seems to be flying.  There could be other issues, like availability of rare earth minerals.

Trump and his base stay in denial for right now.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Current political climate (over midterms, following Kavanaugh confirmation) could bring renewed attention not only to "campaign finance" but also "issue advocacy" transparency; could bloggers be viewed as de facto non-connected PAC's?



The recent acrimony over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the general level of combativeness on both partisan sides (especially the Left) has led me to have some concerns over broader interpretations of campaign and issue advocacy financing rules.  This concern has been exacerbated by an issue I have with Facebook right now over boosting a post on power grid security, but I’ll come back to those soon on my main blog.

The campaign finance issue seems critical now over the 2018 “midterm exams” on Nov. 6, and it seems that the Left is committed to the belief that taking Congress, especially the Senate, can keep another anti-Roe judge off the court until the 2020 presidential election. That’s why the Left is so aggressive in personally contacting people to join their partisan cause. That’s what it had counted on to keep Kavanaugh off until Saturday.

This leads me to review the whole topic of not only campaign finance as it is normally understood, but the embedded problem of issue-advocacy financing.

Typically, with many issues (gay rights, climate change, national security, freedom of speech, freedom of the press—which may be different) the public has an often inaccurate perception that support of one side is inherently partisan.
  
Wikipedia has an important page, Campaign finance in the United States, link. There is a long history, with controversy over Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold), which was thought through 2005 to threaten even amateur political blogging (details; note The Washington Times links from 2005). Indirect campaign financing was eased by the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions in 2010.  Furthermore, in 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC enabled what we call “soft money” to become more or less unlimited if going to political parties separately from actual candidates’ campaigns for party operations.
  
The most troubling part of the legal framework may be that which deals with PAC’s, political action committees. In particular, issue-oriented (as opposed to candidate-focused) campaigns are usually viewed as run by “non-connected PAC’s”.  Apparently, these groups must pay for their own administrative expenses out of fund-raising. 


That raises a logic-driven question: is an independent blogger who writes about issues legally a “non-connected PAC”?  That could imply that the blogger must disclose not only all money raised by contributions or revenues (paywalls, ads, and item sales such as books).  But can the blogger legally be a member of his own PAC and fund his operation out of his own wealth?  (That means wealth in his name and not in inherited trusts, which could indeed be monitored for laundering.) Or must he/she actually raise money in a conventional way by charging or content or asking for contributions?  I note that most of the popular "issue" sites do have revenue streams that could lead themselves to formal CPA analysis; but this question could explain why some of them have recently become so aggressive with readers now in asking for donations (they may need more people with small donations for what they perceive as legal requirements). Could platforms (hosting and social media both) start to pay attention to this question, given the current political contentiousness?

I think you can see where the political arguments could fall.  Better-off people would have more influence on policy (sometimes in sudden, asymmetric ways with ‘tail risks” as from Taleb’s “skin in the game” theory) and that could distort results (although the likely result is to dampen or moderate extreme proposals, because well-off people don’t want radical change that can expropriate from them). More strategically, better-off people would have little incentive to work with more embolden activists, whose tactics demanding “solidarity” would offend them.
  
I’ll follow up on this with some other posts (on other blogs) although I could be talking about my own circumstances.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Stockton, CA will try universal basic income of $500 a month to residents, first city to do so in the nation, six years after municipal bankruptcy!


On Sunday evening, September 23, I drove I-5 south from Sacramento and passed through Stockton CA (population about 300,000), on an inland port in the Central Valley, with a ship visible from the Interstate. Slightly south, I turned East to return to Silicon Valley and Palo Alto, where my hotel reservation was.


Stockton is going to experiment with universal basic income, an idea that has support from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. It will comprise $500 a month to residents. This is an amazing recovery from the 2012 Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, which could have affected even my retirement portfolio.

Rachel Crane has a detailed story and video on CNN here.  This is an idea that Ezra Klein of Vox has often advocated. 

Stockton had been the foreclosure capital of the world in 2008, with everyone upsidedown.  But now the rich people (often tied to agriculture), at least, are quite prosperous, and seem to be doing well enough under Trump.
  
But low and middle income people aren’t able to save money, and have to use the sharing economy – like driving Uber – to make enough to live on.
By Ikluft - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Sunday, September 30, 2018

"Racial diversity requires affirmative action" at elite schools, NYTimes columnist writes



Susan Dyanarski offers a column in the New York Times, “Economic View”, “Racial Diversity Requires Affirmative Action”, page 6, Sunday Business section. The tagline is “at elite colleges, admissions focusing on low income won’t help many minority students”.

Of course, the moral focus on many more moderate publications (like Vox) has been to focus on class rather than race per se in dealing with inequality.


But the article shows that at elite colleges like Harvard, legacy familial admissions complicate things.  Six times as many low-income applicants are white as minority, the article says. 
  
Admissions based on race are complicated by the fact that some groups do better.  Bias against Asian men has been an issue.  And claims to be a “person of color” can often be subjective.  A mixed-race person can look “white”.  And technically some darker skinned people from the Middle East and India are considered Caucasian.
   
I have personally never been one to do things by groups.