Monday, March 31, 2014

New UN report on climate change leaked, predicts global temperature rise by 9 degrees by 2100

A new United Nations report warns that global temperatures could rise by 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the century, and that the effect on civilization, especially poorer coastal countries, is even more than could have been imagined as recently as 2007.  Fox News has a basic story here

An article in a Sydney, Australia paper is perhaps more blunt, link here

The report is said to be “leaked”.
BBC has a brief interview segment here:


A climate change deniers are going to use the harsh winter in the mid-Atlantic (the prolonged weekend Noreaster March 30 ended in snow in Washington), but what happens is much bigger events, much greater swings between extremes.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Panhandling, or real need?

How does one respond to being approached and solicited with some degree of aggression?

Yesterday, as I was about to enter the E Street Landmark Theater when a large man confronted me, asking for donations for the homeless.  This time, he had small DC travel guides and some pens to “sell”.  I went ahead and “did it”.  You have to stop, dig out a wallet, and not drop stuff.  True, I could use the pens.  The ones I have tend to go dry.

I have purchased “Street News” papers before, usually for $2.   
It is very hard to tell which solicitations are legitimate.  A number of years ago, when more clubs were located in SE Washington near what is now Nationals Park, panhandlers would approach and ask for money to “watch” your car. DC  Police say that “aggressive panhandling” is illegal, but not simple solicitations.

But insularity and aloofness, along with vulnerability of many, is a factor in social instability and the increasing brazenness of some crimes.  It seems to lead some to believe that the system of property rights cuts them out and doesn’t apply to them.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Amber alert case in DC area for Relisha Rudd leads to debate on "shared responsibility" for the next generations

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the Metro Section of the Washington Post offered an opinion by Petula Dvorak, “We have failed Relisha: all of us”. Online, the title is “Relisha Rudd’s disappearance deserves as much attention as Malaysian jetliner’s”, link here. 

Out of town readers can check the fact pattern in this article and related news stories.  Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, had left the eight-year-old in the “care” or a janitor at a homeless shelter.  The Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has assigned cadets to scour some areas in SE Washington for her. 
Dvorak mentions that Relisha’s mom had expected her to care for younger siblings, at ages 7, 5, and 4, and that brings up another issue with me.  Dvorak argues that it becomes impossible to parse “blame” for this situation: a “whipsaw” economy (with inequality) tends to feed the “bad choices” that lead to teen or young unmarried single moms in welfare shelters.  

When I got my new iPhone on a very recent trade-in with Verizon, an amber alert text message for Relisha showed up almost immediately. 
I perhaps take issue with the idea that “all of us” are somehow at fault for this.  Is this raw collectivism?  

 Maybe an economy that actually discourages the better-off from having enough children to provide a well-prepared next generation dumps the burden of “family responsibility”, including the values that promote futility, on the poor.  We’re seeing this idea play out oversea, especially in Putin’s Russia.  We can’t take this lightly.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A silly lawsuit concerning Obamacare and the tax credit

A group of business owners some time back challenged the way the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare")  is being interpreted, saying that only those who buy health insurance through state exchanges should be eligible for income tax credits.  Their motive seems to be an indirect attack on the individual mandate and the employer mandate.
The Huffington Post reported on the debate on the bill in the federal circuit (the D.C. Court of Appeals) today, link here.

There is language “established by the states” that would seem to leave consumers in the 36 states without state-run exchanges possibly in the cold.
Yet a few weeks ago this case had been written off.

A DC district court had struck down Halbig v. Sebelius, link here. (opinion text here, Jan. 15, 2014. 

Update: March 27

To make a comment about the debate before the Supreme Court on religious exemptions to the provisions of Obamacare, I offer this letter (by John Shea) to the editor of the Washington Post, right out of Jonathan Swift and "A Modest Proposal", link here.  Payment in "soul script" reminds me of the IOU's from the debt ceiling debate. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Washington DC must pay for motel rooms for homeless; NBC covers working homeless in NYC

A DC Superior Court judged has ordered Washington DC to house homeless families in motel rooms (one room per family) and stop housing them in gymnasium or other makeshift “barracks-like” arrangements  on nights when the temperature in the city drops below freezing.
The story appeared in the Metro section of the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, written by Keith L. Alexander and Aaron C, Davis (the latter reported on high profile murder cases in PG county in 2008, but more recently to Post seems to have shifted that issue to Matt Zapotosky, as with the posting March 18).  The link is here
Many of the families comprise single mothers with children.  79 families had filed a class action lawsuit against the City, challenging Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Recently, NBC Today has reported on the working homeless in New York City, many of them female, who don’t want to list a shelter in Harlem as their address. 

Rock Center, on NBC, had reported on it a year ago.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

US faces schism on whether social insurance is a government or an "it gets personal" responsibility

Progressive columnist E. J. Dionne has an interesting perspective on p A13 of Monday’s “Washington Post”: “The next health care debate”, which many not be “about” health care at all specifically, link here

Note also a concern reported elsewhere that Obamacare may not cover cancer treatments very well; many of the leading cancer centers are not signing up with some of the exchanges.

Let’s get back to Dionne.  His point is that that social conservatives (and some libertarians) object to the whole idea of the government, or public funds, being responsible for social insurance.  We could go off on branch lines here:  it’s debatable whether Social Security, for example, is really “insurance” or more like an “annuity” paid for mostly by one’s own (and one’s employer’s) contributions through FICA; that’s the view I buy generally.

But should the government “force” private companies to take care of the most vulnerable (in the case of health insurance, those with pre-existing conditions, which often result from unlucky genetics).  “Conservatives” want to see volunteerism and family do this.  Dionne points out that a safety net enables volunteerism to become more “nimble” and focused, and that private volunteerism utterly failed in the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

But the real underlying debate ought to focus more on when individuals have a responsibility to take care of others in circumstances they didn’t choose to be in.  We can individually choose to have children or not to, but these choices, in the aggregate, have consequences for whole “peoples” in the future.  But we can’t choose to have eldercare responsibilities.  And it’s becoming apparent that meeting poverty and disability is requiring more than money and checks; it’s also about personal attention (perhaps “radical hospitality”)  and what each of us values in other people. These are difficult things to face (a church sermon is covered on the “BillBoushka” blog March 17).  All of this can have a profound effect on how we view marriage, dwarfing the gay marriage debate as it is now.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Maps publishing "social undesirables" go both ways: story about "anti-abortion bullies"

Wednesday, as I drove south on Lee Highway (US 29) south of downtown Falls Church, VA I passed by some pro-life anti-abortion pickets.  I couldn’t snap a picture because I was driving solo. 
Friday, Petula Dvorak has a column in the Metro section of the Washington Post, “It’s personal: Dueling maps of abortion protesters, providers”, link here

The counterattack by publishing maps is supposedly only taken against “anti-abortion bullies”.
Somehow, this reminds me of the publication of addresses on a map of gun owners in some areas in New York State a few months ago.

We’re no longer a nation of laws.  We really have to worry about enemies, and maybe making blood relatives in collateral, as happens in third world countries.  

Perhaps that’s the price of insularity.  It’s like the line in “Captain Phillips”:  “Look at me.  I am the Captain now.”

Another observation strikes me.  I haven’t marched in any kind of demonstration with a picket in decades.  That should not be beneath anyone, perhaps.  Oh, how I remember the indignation of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

USA Today exposes major problems with extradition among states, allowing criminals to go free; perhaps significant for Alexandria and even 2008 Prince Georges County murder cases

Brad Heath has a major story in US Today on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, “The Ones that Got Away: 186,000 Fugitives Escape by Crossing State Lines” with a subtitle “More than 3300 accused of sexual assaults, robberies, and even murder aren’t pursued”, with main link here.  The report appeared on the first several pages of the print version of the Gannett paper Wednesday.  It was divided into six chapters as if it were intended to be published and sold as a book or at least made available on Kindle.  I seriously considered placing this post on the “book review” blog. 
The basic reason that this happens is that extradition even among states is time consuming and costly.  Prosecutors often hope that another jurisdiction will pick up the cost.  They are unwilling to chase if there is any question that they can convict, for political reasons.  They say the whole process needs major reforms from Congress, and this would sound like a bipartisan issue. 
One city among the worst hit by the extradition crisis is Philadelphia, which sometimes doesn’t chase fugitives living across the river in Camden NJ.  That would not have been funny for me, as at one time I worked in Cherry Hill (on my first job with RCA) and lived not so far away, up the Turnpike near Hightstown and Cranbury.
Extradition among states usually requires approval of both governors involved and special hearings, a cumbersome process.   In the Washington DC area, cooperation among the District, Virginia and Maryland seems better than it is among other states. The legal idea of "state sovereignty" in our federal system seems to be a stumbling block, just as it is for elections -- although it isn't for other laws (like drinking age), it seems. 

The extradition “crisis” will come into play in the recent arrest on a weapons charge of Charles Severance in Wheeling W Va (near the Ohio line) at a public library on Thursday afternoon.  He had left northern VA Sunday March 9, and stated in Wheeling Wednesday night at a motel.  He is apparently wanted by Loudoun County authorities on charges relating to a felon possessing a weapon.  He was apparently in the library to use the “it’s free” Internet access.  Prosecutors might have difficulty holding him forever or getting extradition unless Alexandria police can find enough hard evidence to charge him with any of the three execution-style murders in that city on Dec. 5, 2003, Nov. 11, 2013 and Feb. 6, 1014. Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner have a detailed story in the Washington Post today here.  The media has noted that Severance's pro bono laywers will fight extradition, which will take 45-60 days under the best circumstances.  
There has been some attention to Severance’s website, which apparently is this. Note that it is possible that it might not be available indefinitely if he is indeed prosecuted.  It seems to be a card or board game for simulating or diagnosing mental illnesses. He uses the word “Lunticks”.   It seems to provide a crude resemblance to the real world game playing at NIH during my stay in the fall of 1962, as I have written about here before. 

There does not appear to be a connection between Alexandria and two baffling murders of defense workers in Prince Georges County MD (Kanika Powell and Sean Green) in late 2008, reported in the Washington Post at the time by Aaron C. Davis.   There is a lot of “conspiracy theory” material about these two cases on the Internet.  If you read the stories carefully, the details are perplexing and sometimes contradictory (how many different people actually came to Powell’s apartment?)  Recently there has been some attention to bizarre clues that may have been left in social media in the later summer of 2008, especially Myspace and some nonsensical blogs, as well as to the contents of some of her emails.  Mining social media (archives of companies for material taken down) can provide new clues to cases that seem to go cold, and provides some counterweight in the debate over surveillance and the NSA.

In sum, the extradition issue pointed out by Gannett newspapers is serious.  It is a major homeland security issue.  

(Related: "BillBoushka" blog, March 9, 2014, link to "Behind the Blue Wall" blog.)  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tesla smackdown by New Jersey sounds anti-competitive and protectionistic, but there really are two sides

So is New Jersey’s move to forbid Elon Musk and Tesla from selling directly to consumers after April 1 anti-libertarian and anti-competitive? 
There are a couple of opposing perspectives, such as Todd Wasserman’s on Masable, “New Jersey’s smackdown on Tesla is fair, bur dumb here (sounds like Suze Orman!), Elon Mush’s own blog posting here (which Jimmy Wales tweeted)  and Charles Lane “Tesla takes on car dealers in fight to the death” (or “Tesla v. the dealerships” in print, p. A17, Thursday, March 13, 2014, here).
My first reaction is that a law that requires auto manufacturers to sell only through franchised dealers (as in New Jersey, Texas, and Arizona) smacks of protectionism.  It would be like saying I can’t sell my own self-published books without some sort of “licensed” distributor.  I remember debates like this fifteen years ago when I was active in the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.  All kinds of side issues, such as home-based businesses come to mind.  This sort of thinking has affected writers before, such as when writers in New Jersey, Illinois, and even Los Angeles were chased with fines in the 1990s for working at home.

I recall, when working for a Blue Cross consortium in Dallas in 1980, that a coworker bragged he would start selling cars part time because he had to feed his babies.  That remark seemed directed at me because I didn’t have children.

Some argue that the franchise dealer system is better for consumers, because it gives them an intermediary, local to the consumer, to perform service. 
I can throw into the discussion my own experience with cars.  After moving to Dallas from NYC in 1979, I bought a Chevette.  It had two differentials fail in 40000 miles., one of them on the off-ramp from Stemmons Freeway.  Then I bought a Colt in 1983.  It had two clutches fail.  But in 1986 I bought a regular Ford Escort.  Ever since the mid 1980s, with a few years of Reaganism, I have found American cars orders of magnitude more reliable than they had been before.  Competition has something to do with it.
And there is also the issue of salesmen’s jobs.   The dealer system is said to improve sales as a whole.  But there is an argument that with the automobile industry, like so much else, the Internet changes everything.  My own father made a comfortable living in sales as a manufacturer’s representative, although he sold only wholesale, to buyers.  In the Internet age, the idea of sales as a career has come to be seen by many (including me) as hucksterism or parasitism, for people not smart enough to make things or create their own content.  At the same time,  sales by email, cold calling or telemarketing are consistently resisted by consumers (including me), partly because of spam and even home security problems.  Life insurance companies say they cannot find people who are both technically skilled and temperamentally suited to careers as agents.   You see where all this is headed.  All those robocalls reek of desperation.  And that is not good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SAT changes seem like a mixed bag

Is the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) being dumbed down, by “common core”?  It seems to me that college bound seniors ought to know some of the more challenging vocabulary words, like “mendacious” and even “pleonastic”. 
CATO has an article suggesting that the changes to the SAT are not necessarily good for Common Core, which is a Bush-era federal-power legacy, link here

But the other motive for the changes was to level the playing field and remove the advantage that parents have when pay people to coach them, sort of the “Gossip Girl” world mentality.  Alexandra Pannoni questions how much difference paid preparation really made, and does emphasize that the entrepreneurial Khan Academy can help all students, USA Today story here.

Somehow it strikes me that students need to learn a lot more than “The Core”.  Activities are good place to start.  The idea that students have to support a multiple-choice answer sounds interesting.  I saw that in a chemistry class when I was subbing.     

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Yorker interview with Lanza's father touches on sensitive points

The New Yorker has published an article by Andrew Solomon, which he calls “The Reckoning”, giving an account of his interview with Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, who perpetrated the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton CT on Dec. 14, 2012. 
The article certainly lays out the idea, that extreme nihilism and evil exist, although they may be related to some sort of genetic or biological issue.  
A couple of lines I took a little issue with.  Solomon writes, reporting what the father said, “Adam displayed the arrogance that Aspies can have.”  He also resented being force to deal with learning certain things he was not good at without a good explanation of why it was necessary other than someone else’s authority to demand it. 
The article seems a bit two-faced on the Asperger’s an autism issue, because later the father does imply that the evil was something that seemed apart from the self-focus, which only rarely can lead to violence.
The article link is here.
There is discussion of empathy, where “emotional empathy” notices the potential harm that others will feel.  It seems to me that this is more of an intellectual empathy, and there is no contradiction with personal aloofness and respecting the rights of others as part of a principled idea of personal responsibility.  “Emotion” to me sounds like being expected to bond with others when confronted with their needs.  And, yes, such an expectation can become quite challenging.   

Update: March 12

The case of the Columbia Mall shooting by Darion Aguilar seems to be similar as to the psychological background, as with a Howard County MD police report, here.  When young males feel they cannot keep up with what society demands of them and cannot "compete", sometimes, out of humiliation, they seem to go in this direction,  It doesn;t sound so far from religious terrorism to me.  

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

US ill-prepared for physical attack on major transformers in electric grid, according to new WSJ story

Rebecca Smith has a front page story Tuesday, March 4, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal, documenting how difficult replacing a large transformer is for a utility if it is heavily damaged by terrorism or deliberate vandalism.   The link for the story is here.
Transformers are custom built for individual sites, and there are only a few manufacturing companie sin the United States.  There is only one US company that can build the very largest Mitsubishi transformers, in Memphis.  In Virginia, there are companies in Roanoke (Virginia Transformer, July 17 here) and Lynchburg (Delta Star) (link)  also in San Carlos, CA). 
This time I’ll also give the embed link for the video. “U.S. Electric Grid Ill-Prepared to Handle an Attack”.

This is important.  We would be a lot safer if we could manufacture our big transformers in the Shenandoah Valley or on the North Carolina Piedmont than in India.  

Below (Wikipedia attribution link) is downtown Lynchburg (my last visit was in 2005) from a viewpoint near the company discussed in the article. 

Wikipedia's diagram of the components of the power grid follows.

Update: May 3

A typical rural electric station with smaller transformers. But it's the larger ones that are of concern for Homeland Security.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Bonds backed by rental properties seen as a new financial destabilizer

Progressive activists are critical of the latest financial product on Wall Street’s plate:  bonds backed by rental income from leased single family homes or townhomes.  The Huffington Post has a story by Ben Hallman and Jillian Berman on the issue here.  
The problem is a flip of the 2008 housing crisis.  Banks have become very strict with lending standards (sometimes compromised by identity theft of some borrowers), while housing prices in some cities rise again.  As a result, the market favors cash buyers, or sometimes “as is” sales to specialty companies, who often rent the properties and don’t properly maintain them.
This can become testy in some communities with many very old homes, where there can be undocumented problems with mold, lead paid, and even asbestos.  I recall a conversation about this one time at a Home Depot in northern Virginia, with a salesperson who sees these problems as time bombs for entire markets. 

In any case, ordinary investors can probably buy into funds that use these bonds, just as they can buy into real estate investment trusts that own many apartment buildings.   

Monday, March 03, 2014

Could a federal land value tax become reality soon after Biden becomes the next president?

When I go out into the yard, there are a few robins, mockingbirds, cardinals, crows (one in particular), feral cats and even a red fox that seem to recognize me and don’t run or flee.  They know me.  They know the yard that I pay property taxes on supports their happy hunting grounds and lifestyles.  I don’t have children or pets, but animal friends I don’t have to be responsible for, except with the pocketbook. 
There is a proposal floating around to replace some of the federal income tax with land value taxes. It would be assessed particularly on land in excess of what is necessary for the housing on the property. I had not heard of this before today.
Timothy B. Lee (moving to Vox and Project X from The Washington Post and previously Ars Technica) has an article today, “The case against land-value taxes”, here, on his own site blog, called “Bottom Up” (why does this remind me of “Bottoms Bridge” on I-64 between Richmond and Williamsburg?)  Apparently this is a proposal of Matthew Yglesias (link on Slate).

 Lee hints that this idea could come to fruition as early as 2017.  It isn’t hard to see how this would hit many retirees or drive down property values, especially unused land in urban areas.   It’s feasible to imagine that it could, in an area like Arlington, lead to more tear-downs and high-density condo development. 
There has also been debate over the idea of a “wealth tax”, and something like that exists in some European countries.  It sounds a bit Maoist – the idea that accumulated and especially inherited or generational wealth is morally wrong, and that everyone should take turns being a peasant or – in modern parents – being forced to work as a huckster rather than seeking the truth.   
I have a sense that we'll see more attacks on this proposal from The Washington Times soon rather than The Washington Post.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Young invincibles not likely to buy their own health insurance; employers still take care of them

ABC News ran a report showing why “young invincibles” still find it cheaper to remain uninsured, with link here. So the "college hunks" crowd that does your household moves may not be buying insurance unless it gets it through the employer or parents. 

The emergency room argument doesn’t work because of the high deductible.  That may be true for missed slides in softball games.  That’s not true for big auto accidents, or violence perpetrated by others.  And it's not true for random illnesses like testicular or bone cancer. 

The cost for many young adults would go up by a factor of two or three if they purchase individual insurance, because insurance companies give less weight to being healthy – even if for admirable means, like being fit, not overweight, and not smoking or abusing alcohol or recreational drugs.

The cost for young adults who get covered by employers will still be reasonable.  You can be sure that Facebook and Google will take care of their employers.  And Mark Zuckerberg, with a physician as a wife, will be insured. (I think another Silicon Valley executive married a surgeon; good strategy.)  

I would still wonder how HIV infection figures into the rates.  HIV is now generally manageable, but the protease inhibitors, while effective and not having nearly the side effects of twenty years ago, are expensive.