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.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

House passes "TrumpCare" and it seems to handle pre-existing conditions, if the red states behave


The Wall Street Journal offered an excellent editorial on May 1, “Pre-existing confusion” on the whole “Trump Care” bill that just passed a little while ago in the House, apparently by 217-213, along partisan lines.  And the biggest point is still whether to go back to separating out higher risk consumers, so that most consumers don’t have to pay higher premiums to purchase care they will not use. It seems more acceptable to many of us to pay for unusual illnesses acquired mostly by misfortune publicly, through normal taxation and perhaps reinsurance.

The WSJ points out that guaranteed issue continues, and that states can only waiver out of community rating by doing something instead, like setting up high-risk pools. Yes, we’ve had them before and “liberals” say they weren’t enough. But there should be a mix of federal and state premium supports for sicker people who can’t afford them.  In fact, for someone with inherited Type 1 Diabetes, unless he or she is rich and really can pay for the self (which the GOP understandably wants), he or she will need the premium support.

Critics are properly skeptical of “trusting” the states, given the history of the South.

I would add that reinsurance of excessive claims ought to be part of health care reform.  Even people without pre-existing conditions could have catastrophic injuries, maybe caused by someone else’s negligence, resulting in very high claims.  As Donald Trump has himself been am major employer (as are his two sons now), he ought to know this and want to include it.



And as Spicer insisted in meetings yesterday, premiums don’t rise for people who keep continuous coverage.

There can be some issues, like how to pay for HIV protease inhibitor therapy (which is usually effective but lifelong), or PrEP.
 
As for Medicaid reform, I remember working in New York State MMIS for Bradford National back in 1977-1978 when I was living in NYC well.

Monday, May 01, 2017

People's Climate March; May Day turns violent


Although I got to the March for Science, I didn’t get to the Climate Protest 2017 Saturday or to the May Day demonstrations today because I was busy with immigration (a Saturday event in Maryland, covered on Wordpress, here  ).

Here is WJLA’s coverage of May Day in Washington DC, link. It also focused on Trump’s immigration policies, which keep more than one reporter busy.

There are reports of serious violence at a May Day protest in Portland OR now, on CNN.  Police canceled the march after anarchists reported stormed the event, in a manner reminiscent of the violence in Berkeley over the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos. KGW in Portland reports here.

The National LGBTQ Task Force reports on May Day here.



People's Climate covers its own event Saturday here.