Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Washington DC Metro could see a transit strike

In Washington DC, Metro workers (for the subway system) have voted to allow their leadership to call a strike (Post).  A strike would be unlawful and could be stopped with fines and other penalties.
But the union says it does not have enough leverage against management, which has struggled since early 2015 with many safety issues, culminating in the safety surges of 2016 and the cutback of late night weekend hours. Many shutdowns still continue.

The union could have struck as early as Monday July 16, but so far there have been no disruptions of the All Star Game and associated activities.

WJLA has a more recent report here.

The most recent strike occurred 40 years ago, in 1978 and lasted a whole week. But the region was not yet that dependent on Metro, which had opened in 1976.

There will be another meeting Wednesday, July 16. 
New York City had a 3 day transit strike in December 2005.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Trump's tariffs get dangerous when you consider China's hold on rare earths

Listen up on this front page story on “Friday the 13th” in the New York Times by Alexandra Stevenson 

China dominates the world, along with Malaysia to some extent, with the supply of rare earths and with the technical expertise to process them.  Rare earths are critical parts of modern computers and smartphones.  This geographical fact helps explain why companies like Apple need to do a good part of their manufacturing overseas in Asia and specifically China.

It also sounds dangerous because it brings, to my own mind at least, up the possibility of very dirty word: embargo.

Remember the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which threatened my own expanding life style as a young gay man.  It “blew over” in the spring of 1974 when “they got the price up” but then contributed to persistent stagflation which didn’t go away until Reagan.

And the embargo was politically and ideologically motivated: revenge for the west’s supporting Israel’s behavior at the time, especially after a brief war.

Trump’s protectionism is indeed based on picking winners and losers – or by redressing specific and perhaps legitimate economic grievances in his base, who modernism and “creative destruction” (very much from Reagan’s era) left behind.
But it’s dangerous to take sides with specific blocks, just as it was dangerous to support Israel too strongly in 1973.  You can bring down everyone else to fix the grievances of a few. Authoritarians know that and don’t care.
 As for the rare earth issue, I wonder if Trump really understands this at an intellectual level at all. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"March for our Lives" has ten talking points for Congress on gun reform

March for our Lives” has a list of ten policy points on ending gun violence in the US, with some details one each point, here

The fourth point deals with limiting the sale of large capacity magazines.  The writeup gives a lot of detail, and a breakdown by state laws.

There is some controversy over how effective this measure really would be, as some large capacity devices have some legitimate defensive use.

There is also some tension in the public safety area.  Gun control measures that reduce domestic violence, suicides, and some smaller scale school or public venue incidents might make citizens more vulnerable to very determined and very asymmetric, especially foreign, attacks. Europe, with strict gunb control,  has generally been more vulnerable to terrorism than the U.S.
I don’t know how much of this David Hogg may have written himself.  But most of this material is pretty sensible.  It’s a good place for Congress to start in reforming gun control.  “Do your job.”

Monday, July 09, 2018

Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court

President Trump has announced the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, from the District of Columbia circuit.
The New York Times has a detailed analysis of the problems Democrats may have in opposing confirmation, here.
Kavanaugh was involved circuitously in the Clinton impeachment mess twenty years ago, when he worked as a conservative political operator.  That led him to be termed the “Forrest Gump” of conservative polticis. Schumer calls him “the whole shaker of salt” in conservative politics.

He said in his speech that he was an only child, and that his mother was a history teacher with a largely African-American student base.
He did say “The Constitution’s separation of powers protects individual liberty”.
Kavanaugh is Roman Catholic and says he has volunteered with Catholic Charities (a social service agency which does service refugees). He is not thought to be as aggressively opposed to abortion as some other judges (based on one case with an undocumented immigrant. There has been controversy over Trump's litmus test on abortion, and his recent use of "don't ask don't tell" in screening judges on this. 

Dylan Matthews explains Kavanaugh on Vox.  The article must have been ready to go, in the Vox workplace.

George Log Cabin released a tweet saying that Kavanaugh is not a threat to marriage equality.

Update July 11:

Benjamin Wittes writes in Lawfare in detail about Kavanaugh's writings on criminal and civil proceedings against a president while in office.  The comments about Bill Clinton's being distracted when Osama bin Laden was growing as a threat are interesting. 

Saturday, July 07, 2018

USCIS makes quiet change threatening to many legal residents; Trump's tariffs don't create many winners; Hogg registers "enemy" voters

Hassad Ahmad writes in Quartz about a little-noticed change in USCIS policy which would mean that a legal resident but non-citizen who applies for an immigration benefit (like a green card, or a visa extension, for student or medical reasons)  and is denied, is placed in deportation proceedings. 

Persons with medical issues might be placed in deportation out of concern that they become “public charges”.

This development raises the ante of “quasi-sponsorship” of various persons (asylum seekers, DACA) by private citizens, with their being little coordination by social service agencies outside of actual refugee processing, which has been decreasing.

On the tariffs, it’s hard to see that they will help Trump’s own base as promised, except in isolated cases with specific manufacturers and their workers.  The trade war is heating up, and more will be said about this as the days go forward.  A Facebook friend offers this interesting back-view of China's behavior on agriculture, and it seems to have validity, with me at least. '

Also, David Hogg just made a 45-minute video (not the best picture quality) of registering counter-protestors to vote.  This is a case of "love your enemy", right out of the Bible.  

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Trump administration rolls back affirmative action

The Trump Administration has dropped Obama-era race conscious admissions policies for colleges. As reported, for example, in Politico.

The regulations were noted as outdated.

Yet at the same time an Asian-American group is suing Harvard apparently for some sort of systematic discrimination (on the basis of “personality traits) in order to make more room for African Americans and Latinos.  

I remember back in 1997, before moving to Minneapolis, going down to bookstores in Richmond VA to place my book, and I encountered an owner who fervently believed in reparative affirmative action.
An essay by Richard Mason in Intellectual Takeout in April 2018 talks about the “paradoxical nature of equality of opportunity” connected to affirmative action, going back to the 1978 Bakke case.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SCOTUS overrules mandatory dues from public sector unions on First Amendment grounds

The Supreme Court has ruled against a law in Illinois that requires public sector workers to pay a "fair share fee" into a union, link.

There are indications that the reasoning is that public sector employees were being forced to support political speech beyond what is just part of collective bargaining.
NBCNews already has a more detailed story here

The case is  Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, slip opinion here

Monday, June 25, 2018

Trump's call to deport illegal entrants without due process sounds unconstitutional

Donald Trump has unleashed a few provocative tweets Sunday, indicating he does not want to allow migrants who cross the US Mexico border illegally due process at all.

He called them “invaders”.  In fact, most are fleeing gang violence and disorder in Central American countries which have disintegrated into failed states.  The US drug war in Colombia previously may well have driven the cartels into Central America.

Of course, a “trojan horse” terrorist passage is theoretically possible, and the US must fix its seriously compromised immigration system at the southern border, as a situation that begins to resemble Europe two years ago emerges.

Immigrants who have crossed illegally do have limited due processrights to ask for (defensive) asylum

Vox explains the angry controversy in a piece by Ella Nilsen. 
Audrey Macklin explains in the Washington Post how Canada’s responds, within International law but with some controversy itself, to passage into a third country, here. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Supreme Court ruling on sales taxes could complicate things for small retailers

The Supreme Court ruled today that states can compel online retailers to pay sales taxes on purchases from states in which they don’t have a physical presence. 

The case is South Dakota v. Wayfair.  

This reverses its own 1992 ruling.  Wayfair is a home-goods retailer located in Massachusetts.

The ruling could cause a problem for book authors who sell their products online through their own websites (self-publishing companies try to push them to do that) and musicians who offer “legal” downloads for sale.

Right now, I would pay sales tax to Virginia (where I can apply for a license) on anything I sell that way.  Conceivably, if the customer was in South Dakota, I would have to pay a second tax, but there is more mechanism to do that (no sales tax license with the consumer's state).
States generally set up reciprocity agreements on who gets the tax (like commuter taxes among NY-NJ-CT and MD-VA-DC).  A company would need to set up a service to properly process the payments and send (through secured transactions) the taxes to the right states, and to keep track of individual sales tax licenses with each state.  That doesn’t exist yet. Paypal might be the best company to do this. 

Update: June 24

While the development of such a system sounds necessary and welcome, it could pose "risks" to some small businesses.  Such a system could be used to check up on home-based businesses operating illegally according to local zoning or even condo rules, or could be useful in surveillance for possible other illegal activities (like trafficking).  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tipped workers are not your proles; Initiative 77 passes in DC

 Alexia Campbell explains the controversy over restaurants and bars paying servers full minimum wage for tipped workers, here.
But DC voters approved Initiative 77 today, 55% for, here.

Businesses have to make up the difference to bring workers up to minimum wage, which often comes up shorthanded.

But in states and cities with a mandatory minimum wage, restaurants and bars to have to charge consumers higher prices.  You really wonder about excessive concession prices in theaters and especially stadiums.
In Washington, as I recall, Town DC has joined in the opposition to the bill, which I hope means it really intends to reopen as soon as possible, as it closes July 1 because the landlord would not renew a lease.

Update: June 24 

Ryan Young of Competitive Enterprises Institute has this perspective on letting restaurants and servers decide what is best for them, here

Monday, June 18, 2018

Family separation at the border and the Flores Consent Decree

I wanted to point out a detailed article in National Review on the family separation issue at the border, by Rich Lowry, link
The article discusses the Flores Consent Decree of 1997, which limits the time children can be heard.  Oddly, I haven’t heard this mentioned on mainstream media yet.

Lowry seems to suggest an affirmative asylum process, which sounds questionable when looking at other sources (like the Asylumist site).

There has been a tremendous shift from individual migrants to families seeking refuge from drug cartel violence, but Sessions’s recent change in rules for asylum seek to limit the asylum option.

The GOP immigration bill would not end family separation, according to an NBC/MSNBC story here

Trump appears to want to use both children and DACA young adults as bargaining chips to please his base in building the wall.
I did make a quick visit to the border town of Pharr, TX (near McAllen) on my trip to Texas in late May, early June.

Here's some more analysis on the Flores litigation, from Human Rights First. . 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Die In" for gun violence turns into a small event about voting rights (at Capitol)

After attending the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup parade on Constitution Avenue Tuesday, I went over to the west lawn of the Capitol and caught the end of the “National Die In Day”, followed by a speech (Eleanor) asking everyone to vote in November.

There were placards supporting the 2nd Amendment, and even one saying that gay people in places like Pulse should be able to defend themselves (“Pink Pistols”). Indeed, I know of someone, a grad student in Texas, quite proud of his concealed carry permit.  But that’s Texas (where I was recently).

I met a young man named Sam (himself white and well educated) who was quite into the activism of getting minorities registered to vote, probably extending David Hogg’s ideas (I didn’t see David there; maybe he was in NYC’s event). He was quite passionate about the ruling from the Supreme Court Monday purging inactive voters in Ohio – the centrist USA Today story here

The case was Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, slip opinion 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Trump props up coal, nuclear at the expense of consumers; viewed by some as "socialist" as well as protectionistic

The Washington Post is now calling president Donald Trump a “socialist” after he ordered energy secretary Rick Perry to “prop up” nuclear and coal-fired plants, which would cost consumers more in order to subsidize coal jobs in his narrow base.  The editorial link from Thursday is here
The Post says this measure is justifiable only in a real national emergency (which could have happened with North Korea).  It also maintains that conventional nuclear power is defendable but not coal.

On Monday, I actually spotted the Commanche Peak nuclear plant near Glen Rose, TX while on a trip, from a distance;  could not get my own picture.  But I had visited the plant on a Sierra Club trip in 1982, when we also visited a private wildlife refuge (Fossil Rim) there.

Flying back from Dallas Tuesday, I spotted many mountaintop removal mines from the air in southern West Virginia, possibly the Kayford mine. Strip mines do not employ as many workers as underground mines.

Trump had already canceled Obama-era regulations on coal.  Luke Andraka (Jack’s brother) had done a major science fair project on mine waste before going to Virginia Tech, which is overshadowed only by his brother’s fame (at Stanford). 

Commanche Peak picture from Wikipedia CCSA 4.0:
By Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Swatting can be deadly (David Hogg's family home was involved in an incident)

This incident of “swatting” David Hogg’s family wasn’t funny.  An op-ed (Matthew Fleischer)   from the Los Angeles Times explains why it could be perceived as attempted murder.
I wasn’t aware that the police would have burst the door down.  No one was home at the time.

The kooks on the far alt-right really act scared of this teen, as if he were an alien who could conquer the world .  There is the site “Hoggwatch . (Mark Zuckerberg has been called an “alien” giving us a “close encounter of the fourth kind”.)  I hav to admit, it’s all too easy to envision Hogg playing himself in a Marvel superhero movie, and piling up the box office numbers.  It is all too easy for the talented and quick-witted to get rich on disasters.  But that’s just capitalism, which has benefited me tremendously, without being that quick.

Picture above: downtown Miami, my trip, late 2011 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Boehner: "There is no Republican party"

John Boehner (who caused so much ruckus during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, as “The Cigarette Smoking Man”, even from X-Files): “There is no Republican party.”

Trump has engineered a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

Trump has walked away from the traditional values of trade and the deficit, and is the most unusual president ever.  They are more in sync in law enforcement and fighting terror.  But even the mainstream GOP would be more nuanced on immigration and DACA.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Former Illinois governor: Practice politics, go to jail

An op-ed by former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (2003-2009) on p A19 of the Wall Street Journal, should get our attention.  That is, “I’m in prison for practicing politics”.
Apparently the US prosecutors can view any fundraising gifts by those in office (for the opposing party) as bribes.  “For most people in the political arena, the fundraising part of the job is no fun. I liken it to exercise. It hurts but makes you healthy and strong.”
Trump is reportedly considering pardoning both Blagojevich, and Martha Stewart (“Domestic Diva”), prosecuted for “insider trading” at the end of 2001.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Bring back the military draft for men, New York Post op-ed argues; debated on Fox News Sunday morning

This Sunday morning, Memorial Day weekend, Fox News reported and debated an op-ed by F. H. Buckley in the New York Post, urging resuming the draft, as a pullback from the “libertarian” measure (in 1973 with Nixon!) that has allowed young people to take the world for granted.  Of course, a libertarian would call the draft as involuntary servitude aka slavery.
That seems to be partly an answer to the public die-ins by “privileged” high school students that it is not fair for them to have to be exposed personally to gun violence that comes from “other people’s problems”.
He makes no bones about the idea that it should still be a male-only draft.  Gender confers obligations??  What would he do with Trump’s transgender ban attempt?  What would he think of the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”?  Trunp, of course, got out of it.  This is a "skin in the game" problem. 
He also refers to a Feb. 2017 op-ed by Debbie Truong in the Washington Post, “School boards increasingly embrace the ABC’s of social activism”, link .

Todd South had made arguments for resuming the draft in the Military Times in July 2017 .  He talks about egalitarian service as an obligation, and about the civilian-military gap. It’s likely he would want to include women (as does Israel).   There have been proposals to force women to register for Selective Service.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ordinary gun control measures probably can't stop major incidents, because so many weapons are around and because our culture prods unstable people

German Lopez of Vox has a detailed article explaining why assault weapons bans and similar laws won’t do much to make schools safer.  The bans may help prevent mass events like in Las Vegas or maybe Orlando.

Lopez also examines stricter procedural requirements in buying weapons, which he says may be helpful, but are hard to pass politically.  He says an Australian-style buyback is very unlikely.

Indeed, the Washington Post over the weekend had run a story to the effect that the Santa Fe school system had done everything right (Tim Craig and others).

This leaves everyone wondering about other cultural influences (especially Internet and media) that seem to prod otherwise vulnerable people into military-style hostility.

And FEE (Kerry McDonald) even says that more parents will consider home schooling.
WJLA7 in Washington has even done a report on “building your own guns” from parts. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Could previous surgery lead to problems with TSA screening?

If someone has orthopedic surgery that resulted in the placement of metal in his/her body, could that person expect disruption when going through security with the TSA?

I had a plate placed on the left side of my pelvis after an acetabular fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in January 1998.  I was told that the plate was titanium and a new device. The surgery was successful and I recovered fully and relatively quickly, able to discharge crutches in late March.  I did not have an actual hip replacement.

Since 9/11, I have made at least twelve round trips by air (probably more) and this has never come up. My most recent air travel was by Southwest from Reagan to Florida in November, 2017.
Nevertheless, there is some literature on the issue. 

In 2008, the TSA wrote a posting saying that doctors’ notes didn’t do any good because a determined terrorist could fake one.  It admitted that extra pat downs were possible, although that has never happened with me.  The TSA said it was testing new equipment that could identify internal medical devices more accurately. 

Since then, there have been a couple of other posts(spinemd and Livestrong) that suggest that a note might help, and also say that screening is supposed to stop at the skin level.  (Theoretically, I guess a determined suicidal terrorist could swallow a device (as with drug mules), however, or even have one clandestinely surgically implanted, although this gets into Hollywood screenplay plots that we hope don’t ever happen – yet security experts say that writers and spy fiction authors are good for the industry by helping it keep up with “imagination”.)  

Recent articles say that medical identification cards are never required.  The recent TSA Bulletin (2017) confirms this. TSA does offer an optional blue notification card to carry. 
More interesting, there are comments that titanium doesn’t give out the same signature as steel, and that most surgical devices (like hip or knee replacements) have started using more titanium and plastic in the past decade.
I don’t personally have a problem with the idea of pat downs.  But in August, 2002, well after my layoff, I actually went to a job fair in Bloomington MN for TSA screener trainees.  I was concerned at that the time that, by analogy to “privacy” arguments that had been used to justify the now repealed “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, persons in my circumstances with self-publicized sexual orientation should not be allowed to take these jobs.  I withdrew from the job fair for other reasons, however (a miscommunication of the pay to be offered).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meghan Markle's volunteerism may outflank her gender equality activism

Many media sources are reporting on Prince Harry’s fiancĂ©e Meghan Markle’s activism back in 1993 when she wrote to Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati for a Nickelodeon ad emphasizing that women do household cleaning (for their husbands), as well developed by an NBC Today Show report here
More subtle (not always mentioned) is her long term volunteering on skid row, as in Los Angeles, as reported here.  She even said that the welfare of others was more important than he own safety.

In more recent years (2016), I have refused to go into some areas by car in Washington DC for volunteering because of fear of carjacking.  I don’t have the social capital to deal with an incident like that.
Wikipedia attribution for picture of Proctor and Gamble HQ in Cincinnati. I passed by it in a rental car in 1992. 
CC BY 2.0, Link