Monday, June 26, 2017

Faith-based groups cannot be excluded from public funds for secular purposes (Missouri case)

The Supreme Court has ruled 7-2 (Kennedy joining) that states cannot exclude religious or faith-based organizations from fund for public benefit programs that have a secular intent.  The Washington Post story by Robert Barnes is here.

The case involved Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, MO.    The case is Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.

Public domain picture from Wikipedia of Blue Note in Colimbia. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Senate reveals its "kinder, gentler" Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017

Senate Republicans are about to unveil their “kinder, gentler” health care bill today, which seems (like a grand jury investigation) to have been carried out in secret, Washington Post story (“Power Post”) story by Sean Sullivan, Juleit Eilperin, and Paige Winfiled Cunningham, here.

It's called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  Here is Business Insider’s story. The text of the bill (HR 1628) is embedded in this article.

The main feature of the bill seems to be the indexing of subsidies according to income (inversely) rather than age.  It does sound like it will handle the biggest concerns about pre-existing conditions and low to moderate income people, and that will stabilize markets for a while.  But it will weaken Medicaid over time.  It may undermine not only abortion but family planning services.  It could undermine HIV prevention (like PrEP).

Actually, some people say the bill still allows states to waive out of paying for pre-existing conditions (the "states rights" idea, or simple federalism), and Sen. Rand Paul talks about the "death spiral" of Obamacare.

Ironically, McConnell says it strengthens Medicaid and does allow adult kids to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.  Nursing home care under Medicaid will be weaker and could cause more imposition of filial responsibility laws.

Democrats say the bill won’t guarantee coverages that many Americans actually need. Democrats also say they have only ten hours to debate the bill. No open committee hearings.

I tweeted POTUS recently, that the bill needs subsidies, not Just tax breaks, and some way has to be found to pay for it.  So much for letting the rich off the hook.

"VoxCare" weighs in here.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

New alarm reported over Yellowstone caldera and possibility of a massive eruption even in the next decade

A site called Zero Hedge has put out alarming reports the past two days about an increase in earthquake activity in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, which apparently has been followed by a quieting again.  This event is seen as a possible symptom of a massive eruption of the Yellowstone caldera.  The story (with links) was shared on Facebook today by a member of the “doomsday prepper” community.

Some reports claim that there is a 10% chance of a major Yellowstone eruption by the year 2100.  Some claim it could be imminent.   There is one massive eruption every 650,000 years and we are about due.  Each eruption occurs farther east than the previous one.

There are also reports that the US is quietly contacting other nations for possible catastrophe “refugees”.  But it might be possible to house people in private homes in the eastern part of the US, following the “radical hospitality” idea proposed in the past for political refugees and asylum seekers.

There have sometimes been stories that a change of water levels in some lakes in the area could predict an eruption.

A major volcanic eruption would cause an ash cloud that would block the sun’s rays in many parts of the world for some years, reversing climate change.  “The year without a summer” in 1815 resulted from a massive Indonesian eruption.

Of course, when Mt. St. Helens vomited in May 1980, there was a lot of disruption, but that would be dwarfed by Yellowstone. There are some reports that the magma chamber under Yellowstone is much larger and deeper than previously thought, one of the deepest on the planet.

Recently, a young man was severely burned after falling into a hot spring in Yellowstone.  I have visited the area only once, in May 1981, when it was still cold.

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. diagram of the Yellowstone caldera.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Emergency room doctor: What military bullets do to bodies

Leana Wen, an emergency room surgeon in Baltimore, has an op-ed in the New York Times Saturday making the strongest case for an assault weapons ban, “What Bullets do to bodies.”
But these are the expanding or tumbling bullets in battlefield weapons.  I think those started with the M16, as I remember from my own Army service.   There was no drill and ceremony manual for the M16, as we learned on the M14.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Some in GOP stand by self-defense rights after Alexandria; will Congress tone down the partisanship when debt ceiling comes up?

Some of “those Republicans” want looser gun laws, still, and think they would have been safer if carrying their own weapons on the Alexandria, VA baseball field recently. New York Times story.
No, they should have had better security in the first place.

The internal organ damage done by a high velocity weapon is getting coverage in the news today.

 Yes, we learned about that in the Army, although I never had to fire an M16.

It’s a little bit reassuring to hear politicians in Congress today saying they need to tone down their partisan bickering and work together. Will they do so soon on something like the debt ceiling?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Shocking security hazard for members of Congress on a baseball practice field for a charity event

The shootings of GOP congressional staff and aides early this morning at a baseball practice field in Alexandria VA indeed shocking.  From the known facts, it seems to have been “Left-wing terrorism”, more like what could have happened in the 60s and 70s.  There was an incident in 1954 where 5 congressmen were shot.

Also shocking is the partisan question of  the attacker at a congressperson leaving early unaware of the attention, then shooting at people fielding ground balls.

Still, it’s surprising that only two Capitol Police officers were in the area to provide security. Both wounded, they acted heroically; without them, there might have been over 20 people in Congress assassinated.

The Washington Post has the latest details here.
Normally there is more perimeter security when a significant number of members of Congress, the Cabinet, judiciary, and the like are gathered together in one place.

We know what some people will ask about self-defense.

The shooter had claimed he was a Sanders supporter and had been strident on social media. There will be questions about the violent nature of the Facebook group he belonged to.

Monday, June 12, 2017

One-third of the world's population is overweight, and US leads the way

CNN reports that one third of the world’s population is overweight (BMI over 25; over 30 is obese) with the US leading the way.

13% of the world’s children are overweight.

It certainly appears that better educated people in the US have fewer weight problems., Young adult cis gay males are less likely to be overweight than usual (just notice Pride this past weekend).

People in native populations exposed to process foods are more likely to become overweight (and diabetes) than European or African peoples, because they evolved in a culture with less over-prepared food available.  Just like wild animals (mammals) would become diabetic if fed human foods; they stay healthy on what they can catch or forage.
Yet, I’ve always seen the weigh-loss business as rather pimpy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

NSA analyst charged for leak of election-computer-related hack by Russia

Reality Winner has been charged with illegally removing and transmitting classified information from her job at the NSA, regarding apparent Russian attempts to hack American election terminals in sites that did not have paper backups.  (I have worked on the XP stations myself back around 2007 one election-judge one-day gigs, but we always had paper copies.)

The New York Times has a detailed story on how she got caught, here. This will cause concerns among other journalists.

The Post story on her charging is here. She could face 10 years in prison.  Her attorney and parents have appeared on CNN.

I’ve had only one job (1971-1972 for Navy Department) where I needed a formal clearance.  Handling classified material can be a pain and a risk, unless you want a career in intelligence analysis.  Had I grow up in a more tolerant world, I might have had one.

Vox discusses how this will affect the Comey hearings.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Trump proposes privatizing air traffic control system, splitting off from FAA

President Donald Trump just announced plans to privatize the the air traffic control system today, separating it legally from the FAA and making it a separate corporation.

ABC News has some analysis, indicating a concern that it will leave a few large airlines in control of what airports have service, eliminating smaller cities, and even higher fares with less federal funding. Trump argues that the taxes on tickets will be lower.

There is some concern over the dichotomy of the idea that TSA took over private screeners after 9/11.  (I even applied for a screener job twice.)

There is also a memory of Reagan’s firing air traffic controllers for striking in 1982.  I remember that well, living in Dallas and using Love Field and Southwest Airlines a lot at the time.

CNN’s story is here.

The FAA has been way behind the private tech industry in upgrading its hardware and software systems, using military-based systems from the past when I was growing up.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trump likely to pull out of Paris, but might want another agreement; Weather Channel vs. Breitbart

The Weather Channel has asked the conservative Breitbart site to stop using its video on climate change out of context to falsely buttress a claim of climate denial as here.

I think the bigger problem is that a lot of old people won’t see the effects of climate change personally, but their kids, or certainly grandchildren will.  What about the childless?  Climate change poses basic questions about self-interest in relation to the group and posterity.

There are numerous reports that Trump will pull out of the Paris accords.  Probably most US companies would still continue green practices as they are able.  The real effect would be the effect on developing countries.  On the other hand, some (Ted Cruz) have said that the accords don’t demand enough of other countries.

The Washington Post has an analysis here.

The New York Times has detailed coverage by Michael D. Shear and Coral Davenport,  with a link to an interactive graphic on what other nations might do.

Update: June 2

Here is a video of the text of Trump's speech pulling out.

Monday, May 29, 2017

In TN, 91-year-old vet makes a second career of substitute teaching for three decades: DC school system hit by mid-year resignations.

Two stories about substitute teachers in the news Memorial Day.

One is from ABC News, about 91-year-old veteran Frank Michanowicz, who has substitute-taught for 30 years in Nashville, public schools, NBC News link here.  He has received an award as the Volunteer State’s longest continuously serving substitute teacher, and he seems to handle the elementary grades.

The Washington Post has front page story by Alejandra Matos about mid-year resignations in the District of Columbia public schools, leaving many classes filled by long-term subs.  The problem has been especially bad with mathematics teachers, which I might have become.  The subs are not always proficient in math, and do not always have the skills to keep classroom discipline.

Maybe the schools need a visit from the AOPS math problem solvers, like UCLA’s Deven Ware.
I’m not sure if the District or Tennessee require certification of subs, but many states (like Virginia) do not.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Debt ceiling crisis for US could come as soon as August, as tax revenues are below projections under Trump

On p. A19 of the Washington Post on Saturday, May 27, 2017, Catherine Rampbell has a disturbing column titled “Rooting for the one-percenters”.  Online the title is scarier, “America is about to face a major hostage situation”.

Tax revenues are coming a bit slower than had been expected, partly because of some arcane incentives, so the extraordinary measures that Treasury Secretary Munchen to get around the debt ceiling could run out sooner than had been expected, perhaps by the end of August.

Rampbell points out that Trump made reckless states about the debt ceiling during the campaign, claiming he could negotiated business “deals” with creditors.  It’s unclear if Trump’s views have moderated.  Perhaps, because Munchen wants to resolve this issue.  But OMB director Milke Mulvaney has been unsteady (to say the least) about the country’s credit worthiness, partly because of his connection to the House Freedom Caucus.  Democrats might have a political incentive to let the Republicans crash the economy in view of the 2018 elections.

For someone in my shoes (in retirement), nothing is more important than stability and predictability. Otherwise I become as pitiful a parasite as the people I try to avoid.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

We could really fix AHCA but drop the ball on everything else

The Washington Post summarizes the findings of the CBO report on the House AHCA bill, noting that in about one sixth of the country states are likely to behave in a manner as to effectively leave about 23 million sicker non-elderly people uninsured.   Complicating this is less federal support for Medicaid.
One obvious “fix” would be that the federal government would have to make up all the differences with real subsidies (to assigned risks), not “just” tax cuts.  But that would eat into Trump’s deficit reduction plans.

Which brings us to all the other stuff.  Trump will cut a lot of other programs, like food stamps assistance.  So we can imagine going to the effort to get everyone covered somehow under the AHCA and letting everything else drop.

There’s even the hackneyed debate that working young people make the sacrifices, and nothing is asked of seniors (who have more political clout). But on Social Security seniors have a point. Whatever the legalities of Flemming v. Nestor, most seniors feel they paid for their benefits with FICA taxes over their lives.  You could, of course, bring back the debate on Cost of Living increases and bumping up retirement ages, and increasing floors on FICA.  All of this could set up an ugly confrontation on the debt ceiling later this year.

The GOP is certainly playing the libertarian ‘personal responsibility” card on this one.  States will be able to impose work requirements (at minimum or tip wages) on some benefit recipients. Particularly on food issues, organizations (in the DC area) like Food and Friends and Arlington Food Assistance Center will campaign even harder for funds.  And efforts like these don’t work well without recruiting more dedicated volunteers, who don’t prejudge whether their indirect clients are “worthy” of this kind of personal priority.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

California may experiment with single-payer

Dylan Scott on Vox has an article on California’s proposed Single Payer health care system, which some progressive interests propose to replace Obamacare before Trump gets a chance to trash it with AHCA. The article and discussion of the surveys is here.

Proponents say it would require a 15% payroll tax to pay for the program.  Would this come out of wages?  People would no longer need to pay for health insurance or doctor bills.  (It’s unclear if any dental is covered.)  The healthy people would be sacrificing the most. But in Europe this sort of plan seems to work – although in countries like Germany and Switzerland there is a bigger private component than most people realize, but it is well managed.

Vermont had tried such an idea but it failed.  Minnesota heavily regulates health insurance to make it available, and many health insurance plans in the state are non-profit.

Monday, May 22, 2017

SCOTUS: North Carolina used race excessively in gerrymandering

The Supreme Court has eradicated GOP-drawn gerrymandered voting districts in North Carolina.  The court ruled that race by itself cannot be the driving factor in setting up voting districts.  The USA Today story is here.

The GOP tried to group African Americans together so that they could not threaten GOP majorities in critical contested areas of the state.  But the court ruled that excessive use of race effectively disenfranchised black voters even if partisan advantage alone would not make districting unconstitutional.

Justice Kagan wrote the majority opinion.  (Cooper v. Harris)

Ever notice how litigation against legislation names individuals as representing their office with their own persona (like the Kim Davis Problem).

There was another decision today, Water Splash v. Menon, holding that it is acceptable to service process by mail to a defendant out of the country.  This could be important in the future in Internet-related litigation.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Passenger arrest in Honolulu could complicate deliberations about the in-cabin electronics ban even on domestic flights

A man originally from Turkey was arrested in Honolulu today after, under fighter escort, his American Airlines flight from Los Angeles landed.

On the flight, the man had hovered near a bathroom near the cockpit, and then tried to enter the cockpit with laptop in hand.

Heavy has a story with pictures here.

A Hawaii news site has more details here.

Authorities will certainly look at the laptop, given all the attention recently to intelligence suggesting explosives could be hidden in the battery component. A theoretical (at least) concern is that someone could send a laptop from the Middle East in checked luggage and then use it on a US domestic flight, unless US normal security would definitely have caught it.

That could be relevant to discussions of the electronics inflight ban coming up on flights from Europe. Could it even extend to domestic?

The passenger had behaved erratically in other aspects and been arrested once already.  He could have been kept off the flight for other reasons.

Update: May 29

The TSA might ban laptops in cabins from all outgoing and incoming international flights, story.

Note that in the past, the TSA has recommended that passengers not put laptops in checked baggage because they would be damaged.  Duh....

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump does flirt with obstruction of justice, possible justification for impeachment, with Comey Memo

There is not original to add to the DOJ’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate RussiaGate, Putin’s possible connections to the Trump campaign.  And Trump, like a baby, now is crying witchhunt. You can look at “When the World Is Led by a Child” by David Brooks. (Trump's hair in the picture makes him look like a doll.)  It seems as though we don't have a president.  You wonder what it would be like to have a journalist (Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo) as president, someone not used to asking for money from voters (although Cuomo comes from a political family -- maybe the best of both worlds).

Peter Stevenson has a perspective that is as reasonable as any on whether Trump will be impeached/    It’s not that easy.

But off hand, it certainly sounds as though the “Comey Memo” could be very damaging to the president, if the president indeed improperly encouraged Comey to back off investigating Flynn (“he’s a good guy”).  Jeffrey Toobin agrees, but Alan Dershowitz would not.

The president’s sharing of the intelligence that led to the partial electronics ban on incoming flights with Russia could actually be appropriate.  The media is focused on the idea that the intelligence came from Israel and the president has compromised the future willingness to share information that could get passed on to an adversary. True, but some of the information could be quite limited and specific.  Russia has real problems with terrorists of its own (Chechnya).  The threats to flights to Moscow would be similar.  And Russia has been hit much harder than the US by some other acts, like the recent cyberwar incident with ransomware.

Update: May 19

McKay Coppins asks on The Atlantic, "How will the Trump presidency end?"  Trump is not yet in a King and Pawn ending, but he won't know how to keep "The Opposition". 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Private citizen demands on court lead to charges of Amtrak train engineer for 2015 crash

The family of someone killed in the May 2015 Amtrak derailment sought a private criminal complaint against the engineer, causing a judge to order Brandon Bostian charge,d in Pennsylvania criminal court,  after local prosecutors had decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prove some sort of criminal negligence beyond a reasonable doubt.  ABC News has a detailed story here.

For the train engineer, this is an excruciating case.
This sounds highly unusual, perhaps vengeful, for private citizen to overrule a charging decision by a prosecutor (or grand jury).  What if such criminal procedire was possible in the Ferguson MO case?

Positive train control would have prevented the accident, on an Amtrak route I have ridden many times personally. But when people drive trucks or trains for a living, there is always this personal criminal liability risk.

Friday, May 12, 2017

TSA mulls extending laptop ban on flights from Europe and UK soon, but the consequences are so unclear

There are plenty of rumors to the effect that DHS-TSA will implement rules requiring all laptops and large electronics to checked from all flights from the UK and Europe.  Could this spread to domestic flights? 

The most complete story is on CNN, which relates that Delta leaked the rumor to customers in Cincinnati already.

Engineers are questioning whether placing a lot of objects with lithium-ion batteries close together makes sense.  Checking them earlier at the airport might spread them out more. 

Would laptops would be damaged in checked luggage? 

There are also questions whether there is a kind of Brexit-related business subterfuge going on. 

Some experts say that there is technology to make sure that laptops are OK, but they would have to be running when checked.  

Again, there is no “laptop rental” (with appropriate security) industry comparable to a car rental industry, but it sounds like we need one.  People could keep data in the cloud. 

It is possible to buy a keyboard at a destination and work with a smart phone only. 

Hotel business centers are usually woefully inadequate for high volume use by travelers. 

Update: May 15

The Washington Post reports that President Trump discussed classified material with the Russian foreign minister on intelligence related to the enlarging electronics ban. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Comey, Comier, Comiest

Was Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey “justified” (like something Justin Timberlake would sing)?

No.  It does throw too much suspicion (despite Trump’s denial) of a coverup of his connections to Putin  

Oh, yes, there is the stuff about nausea, like Roman Polanski's film "Carnage".
Comey’s release of a letter to Congress on Oct. 28 was unfortunate, but it might be justifiable if that’s where the investigation was going. Smerconish on CNN has said as much.  One observation is that the fact that some of Hillary Clinton’s emails wound up associated with Weiner and a possible sex-offender prosecution is indeed bizarre and unprecedented.  And no, that had nothing to do with Comet Ping Pong.

In fact, the whole panoply of Clinton’s email scandals and connection to Weiner forms a curious parallel to a couple of incidents in my own career, one having to do with a fumbled production elevation in 1991, and another about the whole “scandal” over my fictitious screenplay when I was substitute teaching (back in 2005 at West Potomac High School near Alexandria VA, if anyone remembers the incident). I always thought I hadn’t heard the least of that incident, but indeed something similar could throw a presidential election. Big problem.

OAN White House correspondent Trey Yingst today grilled deputy White House Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the exact timing of Trump’s actions, back to Monday night.

Here’s Trump’s blunt letter “You are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately”.  “You’re fired!”

The Deputy AG’s letter is here.  Comey is accused of going outside of DOJ chain of command last summer.

Comey was certainly humiliated in front of his own subordinates in Los Angeles.

Is this Trump’s Watergate moment?

Is this Tuesday afternoon massacre the same as Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre?