Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charlottesville right-wing terror event: Trump urged to single out white supremacists, neo-Nazis


GOP Senators and House members are calling upon President Donald Trump to publicly disavow white supremacists or white supremacy ideology and neo-Nazism tonight, after one woman was killed by a “vehicle” rampage apparently driven by a white supremacist today (the last allegation needs to be verified).  CNN’s story is here. The suspect is James Alex Fields from Ohio, charged with Second Degree Murder.

I was rather surprised to see the news this morning and note the violence of the demonstrations pick up, with police presence, resulting in cancellation of the march.


The motive for the demonstration had been related to a decision in the city to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park in Charlottesville.  There is an argument that the statute is part of history.

The UVa Cavalier Daily has video of the incident here
  
The Charlottesville Daily Progress has an account here, by time.  The incident apparently happened at about 1:30 PM.  I was in a movie theater, and did not learn of the event until later, after I got home, after 5 PM. I encountered some friends about 4:30 and the event was not mentioned. 

Charlottesville is supposed to celebrate gay pride in the park Sept. 16, 2017. 


Needless to say, the country still has to be very focused on North Korea.  

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Space weather is back: Risk of damage to power grids from solar storms estimated at 7% over 10 years


The Weather Channel has reproduced a Reuters story by Deborah Zabarenko, “Solar Storms could knock out U.S. Power”, link

The story says that many coronal mass ejection events might cause voltage fluctuations leading to outages but stop short of massive transformer damage.  However, up to 365 major transformers in the U.S. could be in danger of needing replacement.


There is a 7% chance of a major event in the next ten years, as if this were “slight” in SPC terminology.
  
I passed the story along to Sinclair-owned television station WJLA this morning, hoping that the Weather Gang can cover space weather. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

"Leaked" federal report on climate change says "do not cite, quote, or distribute": The New York Times Climate Papers


A federal scientist(s) has released a climate change report before the Trump administration can hide or squash it.  Chris D’Angelo of the Huffington Post summarizes it here  and the New York Times has its own summary by Lisa Friedman, here. 

The Scribd PDF of the report on the NYTimes site is here  (you may encounter a paywall).
  
Is this Trump’s encounter with the Pentagon Papers?  Not exactly.  I don’t think this is classified or counts as a “leak”.  But the draft pages read “Do not cite, quote or distribute”.  Well, we disobeyed.


The temperature in the US has risen steadily since about 1980.  At current rates, average temperature in the US will rise by over 5 degrees F before 2100, and the absolute minimum with the best practices would be less than 1 degree.

The climate change is largely manmade and is more marked near the poles.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Drop dead date on U.S. debt ceiling is September 29, 2017


I would normally add this to a previous post from July 23, but I noticed that talks between Congress and the White House on the debt ceiling seem to have stalled today.  The Washington Post is reporting now that the federal government would run out of money Friday September 29 (or is that Monday Oct. 2).  Default on a payment, the Post says, will cause a stock market crash and sudden rise in interest rates.
The brief story today by Damian Parletta in the Post is here. 




Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mike Mulvaney has come around to a clean increase in the debt ceiling, Yahoo Business Insider here

ABC News has a detailed recent explanation of the debt ceiling by Caroline Cohen and others, here

Jim Carney of the conservative Washington Examiner weighs in here on the "swamp". 

Friday, July 28, 2017

GOP's skinny care fails as McCain says no; Sounds like Milo's fat-shaming


Everybody knows that in the wee hours of the morning, Senator John McCain imitated Nancy Reagan with his “Just Say No”. 

Vox has a pretty complete analysis of the GOP losing streak on health care here.  Now, the baseball team seems to be the only good thing in Washington.

Truthout has a disturbing perspective on the use of civil obedience and “solidarity” that I watch but don’t to myself, here.
Skinny care indeed.  No shame about fat-shaming, as per Milo. 

Bur HRC was claiming credit by email today for its call-in drive, but it was mostly McCain who gets credit.  Two other Republicans voted no.  Susan Collins said she would not take away people's health insurance.  

The Nation doesn't give McCain that much credit "for not killing his constituents", but calls 49 Republican Senators cowards.

If you want to relieve younger adults with student loans from higher premiums, fine.  Them you have to increase subsidies, unconditionally, for the poor and those with pre-existing conditions. You can’t give the rich people more tax breaks.  Do the math. Under federalism, you may have to "trust" the states a bit (which we couldn't on sodomy laws).  

But single payer doesn’t cure everything – like waiting lists, or effective care for some injuries.  The best systems do have a major private component.

For all the complaints about drug prices, think about the medications that are relatively cheap (like my blood pressure medicine).  What makes it cheap is free competition. The same is true for many over the counter medications. 
  
“From each according to his ability, for each according to his needs” 




Update: July 30

The biggest fear is that Trump could just shut down subsidies through insurance companies just to make Obamacare implode.  Price, on ABC this morning, seemed to contradict that. But on NBC Meet the Press, Tom Price said the courts seemed to be saying HHS can't legally make some payments to insurance companies not authorized by Congress. The New York Times has detailed analysis Sunday morning by Reed Abelson, Abby Goodnough, and Katie Thomas. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Real world" football damages brains more than Internet addiction


Various reports indicate that evidence of brain injury (CTE) was found in 96% to 99% of the remains of former NFL and other football players in a study reported in JAMA (which I got familiar with during the AIDS epidemic).   CNN  summarizes it here  and EPSN here.


If you want to be known for smarts, don't play football or contact sports.  But don't get addicted to screens either.  Other good activities in the real world: music, drama, opera, kayaking, tennis, jogging, swimming, cycling (if you don't care about external cosmetics).  

Brain damage probably caused O.J.'s behavior. 
   
This fits Malcolm Galdwell’s idea of being a football fan as morally problematic. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Raise the debt ceiling by October or else


Alan Rappeport of the New York Times reports that Congress has until mid-October to raise the debt ceiling or risk quick defaults on federal obligations, in a story June 29, link here

The issue was briefly mentioned Sunday morning by Fareed Zakaria, who noted that, in the scramble over health care, Congress still has not gotten around to this issue.


President Donald Trump has sounded alarmingly reckless on this issue in the past, believing the US can renegotiate its debt. But Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has said that raising the ceiling and paying bills on time is essential.  Among ideological Republicans, there is a shocking disregard that this has to do with bills already ratcheted up.



I’ve discussed here before whether this impacts Social Security recipients, and the answer is mixed because legally the Social Trust fund shelters recipients somewhat.  But it would not be unconstitutional for Congress to stop benefits, even for existing retirees, even suddenly (Flemming v Nestor, 1960). 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Small business owners need to consider zoning laws, which in some cities are anti-competitive


Here’s an important story on zoning and home-based businesses, “How planners can liberate the next Amazon, by Olivia Gonza;ez and Nolan Gray, link
  
The news story is quite critical especially of Charlotte NC, which John Stossel had criticized in the 1990s for requiring someone to have a commercial kitchen to sell cookies.  My biggest concern would be book authors who have inventories (which normally are easily kept off site in a storage location), but which involve “sales” operations like taking credit cards or PayPal, as well as depending on Amazon (irony).

In the video below, note the businesses based on writing and niche websites.  Yet, in the 1990s, there were a few cases (in New Jersey, Illinois, and even Los Angeles) where writers were fined for working at home.


Charlotte Observer reports revision of the city’s rules is underway, link. There is also this City-Data link

In the past, established legacy companies may have worried about competition from upstarts with no overhead, and cities may worry about not collecting the tax revenue implicit with rentability of commercial real estate. Even Shark Tank’s Blog Maverick (Mark Cuban) has talked about this in the past. 

But shouldn't the main concern be whether a home-based business brings unreasonable traffic into an area? It makes sense that a home should not be a retail store with hours of being open to the public. But zoning seems to be about more sometimes, about eliminating upstart competition operating with no overhead. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Even as GOP health care bill seems to die, there is a lot of point to discussing the issues


While the Senate health care bill seems about to go down, I’ll make a couple of observations.

One is that Senator Susan Collins (R-Me) suggested using reinsurance pools as a way to cover people with pre-existing conditions in the environment of the Ted Cruz plan.

Another is that on Facebook, someone flamed me for not accepting the fact that when I was working in a career job for an establishment employer (until the end of 2001), my employer subsidized my own single health care premiums to about 80% with a tax-free benefit.  I could say I could have been paid the subsidy as salary and paid my own way, but then I would have been in a higher tax bracket. That observation seems to have been lost in the health care debate.

We need to do the (that is, our own) math. Not just let the CBO or Propac do it. 

John McCain’s surgery is disturbing, since he has had melanoma in the past.  He would be valuable in assisting Mattis make the right decisions on North Korea, which puts Trump out of his element. 
       
 Maybe Trump will visit him in Arizona this weekend, where the Nats play the D-backs, who keep McCain up late at night.  The D-backs are good this year. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Repeal without Replace? A flap last week over the Swiss model for health care?


Should the US emulate a health care system like Switzerland’s?  Forbes (Avik Roy) thinks so (link )  FEE (Kevin Williamson)  does not (link)  For one thing, there is no employer market.

  

McConnell talks about being willing to patch Obamacare temporarily now after this flap last week, while Trump now talks repeal without replace. 

Friday, July 07, 2017

Venus accident in Florida: neither driver was negligent


More recent security video seems to have caused police in Florida to reverse themselves on whether Venus Williams was at fault when she was T-boned in an intersection in Florida.’
ABC News has the latest story and video. Williams entered the intersection when the light was green.  She was delayed when another driver turned left in front of her. The light had changed to red.  A driver from the other direction (the victim) would have the responsibility to yield to her and let her clear the intersection if she had entered it legally in the first place, according to Florida law and probably most other states.

It's important that local officials provide adequate protected turns, adequate yellow light time, and adequate visibility at all intersections.  It is often difficult to drive perfectly legally at poorly designed intersections.  It is possible when no negligence of either driver is proved, the community might be at fault for a poorly constructed intersection. 


It’s also important that motorists carry enough coverage to pay legal expenses even when they are not at fault.  Umbrella policies may help with this need, but unfortunately umbrella policies bring in other issues unrelated to driving.

 There would be a question as to whether the car who had blocked Venus with a rude left turn could be tracked down and held responsible.


You cannot enter an intersection that is already blocked even with the light green (“don’t block the box – gets you points in NYC). 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Chicago will require high school seniors to have adulthood plans to graduate


Here’s a new wrinkle on high school graduation.  Chicago won’t let seniors graduate without a concrete admission to a plan for the future.  That can be college, community college, a trade school, a job, an apprenticeship, or enlistment in the military.  The Washington Post has the story by Emma Brown July 3 here.

There are some questions.  For example, generally people can’t apply for jobs as police officers until 21.  People can’t work in bars until 21.

An interesting issue for churches is keeping college students around to help supervise youth trips (camps, missions, volunteers), some of them overseas.  They generally need a certain percentage of people over 18 going.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Little Rock, AR incident shows how vulnerable nightclubs are to customer behavior


The Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock. AR will be shut down permanently because of the violent behavior of one patron Saturday AM.

Will bars need to have security checks like the TSA to stay in business?

Of course, I get the NRA argument that if a “good guy” at Pulse had been armed, maybe many lives could have been saved.  But no establishment wants to allow weapons where alcohol is served.  An establishment could consider armed security guards.

Here is the KATV story.

Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Murrayultra, CCSA 3.0.

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?

Monday, May 08, 2017

Outbreak of measles in Somali immigrants in Minnesota attributed to vaccine denial


Julia Belluz reports on Vox about the measles epidemic among (legal) Somali immigrants in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, here.  The article “blames” the vaccine deniers and says Andrew Wakefield facilitated the epidemic.

And there is an anti-intellectual, anti-elite attitude where parents put their own kids first in the narrowest since, rejecting herd immunity.  “Prove to me that vaccines don’t cause autism”.



I remember the Somali community (women often in bright burqas and dresses in downtown Minneapolis) and the Hmong (Vietnamese) when I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003.

Then look at this weeks Time Magazine article (May 15) on pandemics and the need to escalate vaccine research to prevent a catastrophe some day with avian influenza. The article is by Bryan Walsh, "The world is not ready for the next pandemic".

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Could Trump's tax plan (doubling standard deduction) indirectly threaten home values?


President Trump has proposed a tax code overhaul that might double or greatly increase the standard deduction and remove many itemized deductions, especially local and state deductions, probably including real estate (and school district) taxes.

It’s quite unclear right now how this will go, as its effect would be complicated by the uncertainty over how Obamacare will be “replaced” (generating a lot of anger right now).

The Wall Street Journal has a strong editorial this weekend, “Houses of Lobbyists”.  The WSJ believes that the real estate industry is whining about its own prediction of the loss of home values because people won’t have the same tax incentive to buy rather than rent.

Loss of real estate values would also harm people with big mortgages (reminders of the subprime crisis a decade ago, contributing to the 2008 financial crisis), and the coffers of local governments.  It might cause some planned deals to fail, and some building projects to be canceled.



NAHB has a statement here, as does Palm Beach Post, and Illinois Realtors, to name a few.

The Wall Street Journal expresses a moral objection to the dependence on tax cuts to stimulate ownership over renting, and maintains that in other western countries it doesn’t work this way.  As a real estate businessman, you would think Trump himself could wonder these things (as would his two sons running his empire).

It is possible that I will consider “downsizing” this summer, a move that could help me focus on selling my “work” and make me more morally credible in some circles because I live in an “inherited” house.  But anything I say right now would be very speculative.



Update: May 9, 2017

Vox, in a piece by Alexa Fernandez Campbell, argues that Trunp's tax plan could invite abusive use of home based businesses as tax shelters, even sole proprietorships, even mine.