Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Supreme Court will look at race in college admissions again, could block consideration of it altogether

The Supreme Court has announced it will take another look at weighing race, even on soft criteria, in college admissions, at the University of Texas in Austin, next term.  That could overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, which had barred a point system using race but not precluded softer factors. Sandra Day O'Connor had predicted that the need to think about race could disappear in 25 years. 
The New York Times has a detailed story Tuesday by Tamar Lewin and Richard Perez-Pena, here
The previous decision had been in 2003, and there had been a similar ruling in Michigan. In the early 2000’s, eliminating all reference to race in school policy had been a libertarian policy goal and I had gone into it on my hppub site.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New pancreatic cancer test, a bit like Andraka's, may become available soon

On Thursday, NBC News, in a story by Linda Carroll,  reported on a new blood test for markers for pancreatic cancer in early stages, before there are symptoms, here
The concept may be a bit like Jack Andraka’s test, but Jack tweeted to me that this new test is based on a different protein. 
The new test seems to be on a fast track for approval, though.
Then there is a question as to putting people through aggressive treatment when there are no symptoms.  Social support systems are necessary, which a lot of people don’t have. 
Pancreatic cancer is very different from the lymphoma for which Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is being treated aggressively.  Again, the regimes, like bone marrow transplants which Robin Roberts underwent, demand a very big social support system. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

DC statehood amendment would establish "New Columbia" as a state with most of DC except federal enclave

Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) has introduced a bill, a companion to H.R. 317, that would lead to a constitutional amendment establishing a 51st State, New Columbia, including all of the commercial and residential areas of Washington DC, excluding only an enclave of federal buildings, including the Capitol, White House, Mall and major monuments.  The DC Statehood site is here

That would allow two Senators (I can imagine debating it down to one as a compromise) and representatives in the House. 
The entry for HR 317, offered by Eleanor Holmes Norton, is here.  It is the New Columbia Admission Act.
Current voting rights, according to the Constitution, would not allow Norton to vote.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Supreme Court "saves" Obamacare again with common sense; also, upholds disparate impact provisions of 1968 housing law in Texas case

The Supreme Court has upheld, in a 6-3 ruling, an interpretation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allows federal subsidies to purchases of health insurance who live in states that did not set up their own exchanges.  This could have affected 6.4 million people.  The four bad wordshad been “established by the states”.
The CNN story is here. ABC News Channel 8 reporter Scott Thuman indicates that the Court is influenced more by popular opinion and what “works” or sounds like common sense, than just a literalist interpretation of constitutional law.  But that started with the Warren Court.

The slip opinion in King v. Burwell is here
The Washington Post has coverage here.  Chief Justice Roberts said that Congress intended to make health care markets work more seamlessly.   Scalia’s dissent runs 21 pages. Scalia maintains that the Court has no responsibility to relieve Congress from its drafting errors. Vox Media's Matthew Iglesias weighs in on Scalia here
Critics of the opinion were using the term “Scotuscare” rather than “Obamacare”.

The opinion for Texas Housing v. Inclusive Communities is here. The case , regarding disparate impact provisions of a 1968 Housing Act, is briefly explained here on CNN    

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sentiment that paid family leave should become mandatory goes stronger

Claire Cain Miller has a column Wednesday in the “Upshot” column of the New York Times, “New momentum on paid leave, in business and politics”, link here  page B1. 
While paid vacation and paid sick leave is common in “better” jobs, expecting paid family leave is more controversial in the United States, but not in Europe.  Increasingly, tech companies or those will highly skilled workers find it in their best interest to provide it.  Professional sports provides it.  The article does a good job of covering the possible unintended consequences – fewer women might be hired in high positions.  The article doesn’t mention the issue of “sacrifice” by the childless, or unpaid overtime by other salaried people.
There is also a movement to encourage new fathers to share the leave taking (Major League Baseball can set a good example).  One problem is that some commentators, such as those on the Today Show recently, think that the policy needs to be mandatory to work at all. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Action on climate change now would benefit future generations, but not us, a moral question

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a detailed report “Benefits of Global Action” with respect to “Climate Change in the United States”, PDF link here
Brad Plummer has a commentary on Vox.  The biggest benefits don’t accrue until at least 2050, when I would be 107, link here.  Sea level rises will occur “no matter what”, and these will affect Florida most of all.  And they will affect lower income and island countries.   Drought will only increase in California.
Real changes in the way real property works and in values, with respect to water rights will occur. On the other hand, technology will tend to improve the prospect of personal mobility with less carbon output all the time.  Eventually, all vehicles could be all electric.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More research shows how father matter; what does this mean for non-parents?

Eleanor Barkhorn has an article on Vox on the importance of fathers to their kids, where she interviews Paul Raeburn.  The link is here.

Yes, it befits Father’s Day.  One interesting observation is that teenage girls, when living in a home without father present, actually menstruate sooner.  It’s not so clear why this would happen.  But earlier it’s been reported that men show a drop in testosterone when nurturing their own children. 

That may actually result from pheromones from the pregnant mother.  Other animals sometimes show similar effects.

The obvious question, then, comes, with teens raised by two moms, or two dads (particularly of the opposite sex from the kid).  Some interactions that seem effective at some biological level won’t happen.  One the one hand, including gay couples increases the number of possible adoptive families, maybe badly needed.  On the other hand, it seems less than optimal – but life is often less than optimal in many contexts, not just this.
It also raises questions about the place of adults who are not parents at all – myself included.  I’ve even heard Don Lemon say on CNN, “I am not a parent”.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

GOP wonders if it will lose working moms over opposition to mandatory paid leave

In  a front page Washington Post Story Saturday, June 20, 2015, Danielle Paquette writes, “Advocates fear GOP will lose working moms’ votes”, link here
Liberals and/or Democrats have controlled the debate by bringing up paid family leave, while the GOP seems to admit that mandatory paid leave could burden the childless indirectly (while supporting companies’ doing so on their own). The GOP wants mothers to be able to claim tax refunds early for maternity leave and to be able to swap overtime pay for leave.
But in the more distant past, conservatives like Pjil Gramm advocated a greatly expanded per child tax credit for married couples, to encourage more children be born in marriages, and Henry Hyde (the “Mom and Pop Manifesto” from Policy Review in 1995) talked about the “family wage”.
Major League Baseball gives paternity leave to players and parental leave to all team employees. The Nationals’ Tanner Roark got paternity leave this weekend for the birth of a child, and the team was allowed to call up a different pitcher.

"The Street" has an article "The 10 Best States for Working Dads" and #1 is Minnesota (where I lived 1997-2003), link.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Obama adviser ratchets up warnings on climate change

John Holden, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says that without human activity, the world would be cooling now.  He reinforces Al Gore’s contention in his 2005 film “An Inconvenient Truth”, that carbon dioxide levels have skyrocketed due to human activity.  The severity of weather events (storms and droughts) has increased, although this assertion is debatable (we’ve always had tornadoes and hurricanes).  The Weather Channel has his audio interview here.
The rising of sea levels and spread of drought, however, is likely to impact lower income countries especially and increase political instability.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Parents reported less concerned about youth obesity, but that's not consistent

The “Science Times” column of the New York Times has a disturbing article today “Blind to a Child’s Obesity”, about parental obliviousness to overweight in their kids, link here
But my own experience, when working as a substitute teacher, and in mixing in a few local congregations, is that youth obesity seems to be an economic class experience.  It was more common in Hispanic populations (as it is in modern native Americans, dues to dietary changes vs. genetics) than others.  It still is relatively uncommon in higher income families.
As far as lack of time in “real world” activities because of social media, again, I don’t see that too often among higher income families.  There is a definite correlation between parental success and stability, and the ability of their kids, as they move through middle and high school years, to find that “real world” activities can work for them.  These may include sports or outdoor activities and out-of-country trips (sometimes for missions or charity) in the summers.  They may include things like drama or music performance or even (with a bit of irony) high tech video and filmmaking. 
And obesity seems less common in the male gay community than with adult males at large, partly because of appearance values in the community.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Recent study from Harvard Business School on working moms' effect on their kids differs from earlier British study

According to recent Harvard Business School study reported today, daughters of working mothers in the US often achieve more in life and wind up in managerial positions themselves, as in a story in CNN Money Monday, link here.  Male children were more likely to learn child care and share household chores.  The Harvard Business link is here
On the other hand, a study in the UK Daily Mail (story by Steve Doughty) shows very different results, indicating that working moms who return to full time work quickly leave children in a situation similar to being raised by single mothers, whereas the same is not true for dads. Conservatives in Britain are trying to use this as an argument against mandatory family leave policies, link to the story here.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Flip side of paid parental leave argument gets shoved out of sight. but a few articles take it up

In the past two years, there have been published some articles that present the flip-side of the paid parental leave issue.
In March 2014 Jena McGregor wrote “Single, childless, and want work-life balance? How taboo”.  The focus is more on companies that voluntarily offer paid family leave but won’t offer anything comparable to people without families.  The link is hereThe overall advice of the article is to base leave policies on being able to get the job done.  But that applies more to salaried people doing development work, not to work that is transaction oriented.  Salaried people, when they take over someone else’s work, don’t get paid for it.  But hourly people do (and will get overtime if required by law).

 An article in the British Mail by Polly Dunbar (paid maternity leave is required in Britain), July 28, 2013, asks bluntly and with a sense of confrontation,  “Why should childless women like us do longer hours to cover for working mothers?” link here. She writes, “Indeed, expecting the childfree to pick up the slack is not just an entrenched part of workplace culture, but tacitly supported by the law” (in Britain).  The article suggests that this is a much bigger problem for childless women than childless men.
In the past, this affect the gay community disproportionately, in that it was less likely to be raising children. But gay marriage and public support for gay parenting can change that.
Indeed, I felt some resentment.  Should I sacrifice to support someone else’s sexual intercourse when it can’t be reciprocated?  On the other hand, I know the “living in a community” argument. With practically all social animals other than man, non-procreating adults are expected to help support the alpha members who do reproduce.
Another good question would be, should paid family leave be expected to care for parents?  It might make sense in states that have filial responsibility laws.
What seems so unacceptable is sweeping this under the rug and not facing it squarely.  There is no logical way to be “fair” to everyone and appeal to natural sympathy for mothers, often expressed in many one-sided political appeals and ads. 
I suggested in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book that paid benefits (requiring sacrifices from others) entail when there is actual responsibility for another person, whether a child (natural or adopted), or a parent.  It needs to be out in the open.  I even accepted the idea of a slightly shorter workweek when there is a family responsibility.

There’s another flip side, when there are downsizings and layoffs.  An “unencumbered” single person might be demanding less salary and lowball his or her coworkers and be more likely to be kept on.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

100% renewable energy by 2050?

David Roberts has piece on “what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy” by 2050 on Vox media, here

The key is to make absolutely everything electric.  That means no more gas stoves after a particular year.  And no more gasoline-only engines, and then later no more hybrids.  It also means building the infrastructure of charging stations in more rural areas and making charging more efficient.

The sheer number of generating stations is also one issue.

Are lifestyles an issue?  Back in the pre-Internet days of the 1970s, it seemed as though personal mobility itself was becoming an issue, with all the oil shocks.  Yet employers were gradually moving away from center cities to suburbs, where the families lived.

Monday, June 08, 2015

NTSB orders DC Metro to make massive safety changes to electrical connections, possible disruptions?

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report showing that the Washington DC Metro was deficient in installing and maintaining power supply connections to the third rail in many locations throughout the system.  This definitely caused a smoke incident in Arlington and it may have caused the L’Enfant Plaza fire on Jan. 12, resulting in one fatality.  The NTSB link is here

Apparently the NTSB wants Metro to fix these problems quickly.  Will that mean even more disruptions to service?

I’ve long argued that Metro should arrange efficient late-night express bus service along its routes (six busses per train) to keep people moving while it completes work.
In the meantime, the City has been hostile to parking and driving, making it difficult for many businesses to function.

Update: June 12

Metro plans to single track many lines weekday afternoons over the next 15 months to make repairs.  A typical line would take about a month of weekday single tracking to complete.  Paul Duggan has the story here in the Washington Post.  The lines with the deepest and longest tunnels (Orange, Red) might get attention first.  Other cities, especially New York, are likely to make similar repairs (but NYC usually has double tracks both sides in most populated areas).  


Sunday, June 07, 2015

CNN reporter argues for equal leave for new dads; is childlessness reaching a "tipping point" toward "demographic winter"?

Here’s some more family values for a Sunday night.  Michelle Singletary has a review of a book by CNN reporter Josh Levs new book “All In: How our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses – and How We Can Fix It Together” (Harper One, a rather long title).  Her column is here

 Levs reports that when his wife had a child, born prematurely, CNN offered paid maternity leave, and paid leave for adoption, and accommodated gay couples adopting or having children by surrogacy, but wouldn’t offer it to “normal” dads. 
Not much argument in today’s modern times of near gender equality, if a company offers paid parental leave, it ought to offer it to either parent,  CNN has since extended the leave to dads. 
Again, I’ve taken a position against mandatory leave required of employers, common in most of the West, because that implies that the childless will do the work for the “parents’” compensation.  This shouldn’t happen without an unveiling of what is going on.

Let’s go on to the “population demographics” debate.  Last night, while having dinner before an HRC party on U Street, I found this article by Janet Shaw Crouse of the Washington Times, April 30, 2015, “Have we reached a tipping point with childlessness?” link here.  
I think her analysis is essentially on target.  If we live longer and have fewer children, we need to work longer, and at innovative and productive pursuits other than hucksterism.  Right now, we’re not quite able to pull that off.
There are a wide variety of moral assessments of childlessness in reputable papers all over the web.  Generally, it’s a function of women’s waiting longer until their careers are set, but there is also concern that older men have a biological clock, too.  Where childlessness is “selfish” or having children is itself “selfish” depends very much on the speaker.  Jody Day has a sobering article in the Guardian, December 2013.  I’ve reported before the Pew study that shows well educated and high income women and families have started having more children again.  Elizabeth Gregory of the Atlantic also wrote about this in 2013, "A Childless Generation?", here.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Ambiguity from mixing social media liability insurance with homeowner's and autos could hurt some Internet users (due to hidden anti-selection concerns)

There is a fuzzy confluence in the casualty and property insurance world between normal property losses (to accidents, storms, and most crime), personal liability – which is clear enough when it is physical injury from improper use of a vehicle or failing to maintain property properly – and reputational injury, libel and slander, and even possibly other vulnerabilities like copyright.  I think, for anti-selection reasons, the insurance industry (and remember, I used to be employed by the life insurance industry so I know what adverse selection and moral hazard mean) these perils ought to be handled “hands separately”, to use a metaphor from practicing piano.  
Generally, in the past, in most states (and probably now), if you want coverage for libel and slander, you buy an umbrella policy, either on your auto or home or renters.  Generally, in auto, to get over $300000 max in personal liability for an auto (up to $1 million or more) the converse is true.  You have to get libel and slander coverage to extend your auto liability, even though libel and slander normally have nothing to do with accidents.  

I admit, I haven’t talked to an agent yet, and probably will soon, so some of this seems speculative.
One of the most important features of an umbrella policy would be having litigation costs paid in case of a frivolous lawsuit.  

But logically, this scenario would envision an insurer’s examining an applicant’s social media presence to see if he or she was insurable (at least at the umbrella level) at all.  I don’t know whether this happens, but logically it could, to avoid anti-selection.  
Most web articles say that homeowner’s insurance (or renter’s, now often required by many apartment buildings – which leads to interesting speculation if you think about it) normally doesn’t cover personal libel or slander, unless you get optional coverage, available from some companies in some states.  Some companies, according to this 2013 article, may offer “social media coverage”.  For example, consider the scenario in this November 2013 article by Paul Hoover, n North Carolina, link.   Of course, in the example given, you could rule that the loss was covered by recklessness, and the parents shouldn’t be covered but should pay out their life savings to repair “Jeffrey’ anyway.  (You wonder why so many employers and friends believe everything on Facebook, but like with credit reports, until recently with identity theft, employers tended to hold associates strictly accountable for their reputations, whatever the cause.)  The article warns that employers often ask for Facebook logins, but doesn’t say that specifically about insurers.  Is that coming down the pike?   
A Feb. 2015 article in the Inquisitr, also discusses Social Media insurance as optional, here
However, an article in Insurance Journal in September 2013, “Bloggers Beware: Defamation Complaints Brought by Public Figure Plaintiffs”, article by Clayton N. Matheson and David A. Jones, link here takes a different tack.  The article maintains that sometimes that (“strange as it seems”) homeowners policies already cover defamation, contradicting other sources.  At least, there may a “duty to defend” even when there may be no “duty to indemnity”.  The article goes on to discuss gratuitous lawsuits from some celebrities, who may have legally weaker cases (the issue of actual malice, and different standards for privacy or false light).   
All of this would sound alarming, because that could lead to a cancellation or a non-renewal of a policy intended primarily to protect against tornadoes or wildfires, again, if social media audits became common, even when there have never been any claims. But, again, most sources say that defamation coverage usually isn’t provided unless asked for as an option.  
On top of all this, some states, in publishing consumer’s guides to property insurance, seem oblivious to the whole issue, as in Virginia’s consumer guide where nothing like this is brought up, link here .
Could social media defamation insurance become mandatory for users?  Will politicians think it expedient to think they can “require” insurers to offer it as standard coverage?  That would sound disastrous.  
Back in 2000, the National Writers Union tried to get defamation coverage for members.  The second time around (shortly before  9/11, as it turns out), many people were dropped if they covered controversial material, like LGBT (long before gay marriage was mainstream and when “don’t ask don’t tell” was still law).  These things are all interrelated. Imagine the world now, where foreign influences on religion and race have come roaring back.  

Social media use has evolved considerably over two decades.  Perceptions of what it achieves have changed, and vary among users.  National security concerns, like radicalization online from overseas and provision of dangerous information (on WMD’s) becomes pertinent.  At first glance, the moral hazard would sound so nebulous and unpredictable as to be uninsurable (despite the fact that in the beginning, defamation personal injury coverage options were rather inexpensive, suggesting insurers had not thought through the future risk).  It is true, for example, that personal homeowners policies generally exclude business risks (because a revenue-generating business would normally have its own policy), although home-based business could be a complication, as is use of personal auto for a job (other than commuting – imagine Uber, or imagine an auto accident when a blogger drives to a location to cover a news story like a political demonstration for an ad-revenue blog).  So that would exclude defamation from blogging, books, video or social media posts in conjunction with work or even a “legitimate” business owned by an individual.  But for non-commercial posts, insurers could require policyholders use full privacy settings --  which would prevent any material from being broadcast beyond people you already know.  Of course, that sounds like a canard, too – many defamation events have occurred from “private” posts that were repeated and then gone viral or been spread to an employer.   
It’s also apparent that a great deal of litigation (as a percentage of the whole) comes not from blogs or normal social media accounts, but from “review sites” like Yelp! And Angie’s List.  Some businesses are fighting back against consumers because they feel that one bad review (even if only marginally not completely true) can destroy their business.  

Insurers may have to become more concerned, too, that social media could result in criminal or enemy targeting (typical industry web article), although such behavior (often chronicled on “Dateline” or “20-20”)n has long been well-known in many crimes committed even before social media became available.  It would seem that for some users, Facebook's "real name" requirement could become a real issue, not well explored. 
It should be mentioned that some companies offer “identity fraud” protection on homeowner’s, without covering social media liability.  
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of speculative articles about future Internet use, all trying to connect invisible dots.  Back in 2004, there was a piece “the coming crackdown on blogging” predicting that  campaign finance reform could make most political blogging for free illegal.  That didn’t happen, but it stirred a lot of controversy for about a year.   

I'll add that I personally know a couple of families that don't use social media or allow their kids to do so (outside of very strict privacy settings, perhaps) out of concerns for "workplace conflict of interest" or "implicit content" (which I have covered before) and unpredictable risks, given their own professional circumstances.
The move in Congress, to allow defendants of “SLAPP” lawsuits to go to federal court (my main blog, May 22), helps, but a federal SLAPP statute would help with this whole problem. 

The video embedded above makes it look too simple.

See also July 2, 2013
There is an update about this issue on a posting Aug. 14, 2015 (see same label). 


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Some groups ("Housing First") argue that the simplest solution to homelessness is to give people housing (to "rent"); where does this lead?

Today, AOL’s mail page greeted me with a story (by Drake Baer, May 31) and video about homelessness.  The "ridiculously simple" way to deal with it is to “give people housing” to rent.  I’m not sure how this fits into existing social welfare programs in most states.  The link is here and includes a 6-minute video.  This story appears to come from AOL’s paywall; subscription service, and I haven’t seen it yet free on Huffington, but if may appear there soon.
The story quotes the Economic Roundtable’s study of homeless in the Silicon Valley, CA, here.
The story also discusses a group called “Housing First” in many states, including (for example) Utah. 
 This seems to be a confederation of like local organizations, for example here

I haven't heard about this at Mt. Olivet's Community Assistance (the "organized chaos") in Arlington VA, but it sounds logical that it would come up.  The pastor's reaction is that a good comparison could be made to Habitat for Humanity, and one would wonder how many beneficiaries keep their homes indefinitely. 
The strategy would seem to be a “sharing economy” approach (perhaps with website development) of matching landlords willing to rent apartments to the indigent (I presume with some sort of subsidy) to individual clients, which would include many military veterans.  It’s not quite clear why existing programs don’t already do that.
It’s also not quite clear if this initiative would lead to asking individual homeowners or families to house indigent people (the “spare room” idea we heard proposed during the Cuban refugee crisis in 1980).  On the surface, that obviously raises many issues:  support, insurance, security, and the like.  But that’s a logical place to go with this.
The concept would seem to demand more of individuals than most other ideas.
In the past, on the other hand, other progressive media sources have suggested that giving poor people “money” is the easiest way to get stability.  Dylan Matthews on Vox suggested this in 2014 here.  Also note a recent Vox story about welfare in Kansas 

Update: June 11 

I noticed a building with a sign for A-span, in Arlington County Va.