Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cruising the Web

A very legitimate question:

This is what excessive political correctness has come to.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco and Oakland has been withholding video evidence of crimes committed on trains and at stations perpetrated by groups of teenagers, it has been revealed.

According to CBS Local, dozens of teenagers committed large-scale acts of robbery and assaults in the months of April and June. In April, “forty to sixty” teenagers boarded a train at Coliseum stop, where they proceeded to rob seven passengers and beat up two. In June, four teens assaulted a passenger and stole his cellphone. Just two days later, about a dozen teens snatched the phone of a woman on a train.

In each of these cases, BART has refused to publish surveillance footage, citing fears that the videos could create negative racial perceptions.
Doesn't BART care about the safety of its passengers? Is safety to now be secondary to worrying about race?

The Democrats are, as usual, overreaching on this new scandal involving Donald Trump, Jr. There's enough sleazy and ugly stuff in this story, but it's still not even clear whether this fits the legal definition of collusion, much less treason which has a very specific definition in the Constitution. Dan McLaughlin responds to these claims by writing that "it's not treason, but it's not defensible, either."
Don Jr. was wrong to take that meeting, full stop. It is a real scandal that he did so, period. No amount of comparison to other misconduct by anybody else mitigates that, no amount of amateurism on his part excuses it (if anything, this illustrates the problem with having a presidential campaign full of people of low character and no political experience). Conservatives defending Don Jr., or Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner (both of whom were told about the meeting and forwarded the email chain at the time) should be embarrassed. The fact that this looks like as much a Russian sting on Don Jr. as a legitimate attempt to help him shouldn’t change our view that the whole affair illustrates why Putin’s regime is malicious and a malignant influence on the politics of the U.S. and other democratic nations. And for Republicans, it should be a reminder of why the party’s prior two presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, took a hard line on Putin, as did most of the Congressional GOP until Trump became the party’s standard-bearer.
The excuses that some Republicans have put forth just don't cut it.
A couple of defenses have been offered. One is that anybody would have been interested in receiving incriminating evidence about their campaign opponent, and accepting opposition research from all sorts of shady sources is what campaigns do all the time. This is half true: I don’t blame Don Jr. for being intrigued by the offer. But anybody with half a brain and half a conscience would have realized, before sitting down to meet a source connected to the Russian government on behalf of a presidential campaign, that there was something very wrong with this picture. Maybe his inexperience in politics (unlike Manafort’s) made him cynically think that this is how it’s usually done, but he should have had at least enough skepticism to ask somebody who knows what campaigns do. And yes, it’s true that Politico reported in January that the Hillary campaign and the DNC worked hand-in-glove with the Ukranian government to get dirt on Trump, an effort that should give Democrats some humility about their own over-the-top rhetoric on this stuff:...

But that was bad too, and this was worse because of the overall context: while the Ukranian government has been populated by plenty of shady characters in the past decade, Russia is a much bigger and more hostile international actor than Ukraine, and Putin has a known, ongoing strategy of disrupting the democratic process in other countries (none more than in Ukraine). The Trump camp already knew that Russia was widely believed to be the source of the earlier hacks.
However, the lack of excuses for Trump Junior's actions doesn't necessarily mean that we're talking about actual crimes, much less treason.
But just because Don Jr. was wrong, doesn’t necessarily make what he did illegal. The word “treason” has been thrown around very loosely, even by Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary’s erstwhile running mate. Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes, whose misadventures understanding the law I’ve discussed before, asked on Twitter, “I’m old enough to remember when the GOP was outraged over legalisms like the definition of is. What about the definition of treason?”

In fact, the definition of treason is anything but a technicality. Among the scores of federal crimes on the books, it’s the only crime explicitly defined in the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3, and the Founding Fathers considered that strict written definition to be an essential bulwark against political prosecutions of precisely the type that Kaine, Rhodes, and others are so flippantly suggesting. The Founders drew on a dolorous tradition of abusive prosecutions for treason, and so adopted a demanding definition: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It also required a heightened standard of proof for treason convictions, and barred punishing family members of the convicted traitor.
McLaughlin goes on to quote Madison, Hamilton, and Justice Jackson on the definition of treason. The Founders deliberately made treason a crime that is difficult to prove since they didn't want charges of treason to be thrown around for partisan reasons.
Beyond treason, the other main theory being pushed is that accepting information from Russian sources would constitute a campaign finance violation, because the law prohibits accepting donations of any “thing of value” from foreign sources. (As Turley notes, this would also include the Clinton campaign’s receipt of information from the Ukraine). UC-Irvine Law professor Rick Hasen has been pushing this theory, based on some expansive FEC opinions (never tested in court). Hasen favors some fairly draconian readings of campaign finance law in general, and the intricacies of the theory deserve a longer rebuttal, but a lot of the people signing up for his theory should really reconsider, since it would turn the simple receipt of information – from domestic as well as foreign sources, if not reported as donations – into violations of federal law, potentially criminal ones. That potentially raises some very serious First Amendment issues in the gathering of information for purposes of political debate, and could impose federal regulation on all sorts of activities that no campaign presently treats as against the law.

If you wouldn’t want your friends hauled into court under these legal theories, think twice about advocating them for your foes.
If gaining information can be considered a donation of a "thing of value," then every political campaign is accepting illegal campaign contributions. How would the FEC even evaluate the value of information in terms of a political campaign?

There is enough in this story to appall people, but the Democrats should know better than jumping immediately to the most extreme allegation against the Trumps. Let the story play out. And Republicans need to be willing to criticize the Trumps when they have done something wrong. As Jim Geraghty writes,
I keep seeing Trump defenders bringing up Ted Kennedy’s efforts to reach out to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, citing mutual opposition to various anti-Soviet efforts in the American government, including the Reagan administration. I thought we hated that. I thought we on the right thought that was a textbook example of letting partisan passions overrun good judgment and loyalty to one’s country. On what planet is citing Ted Kennedy exculpatory?

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Read this interview that a high school sophomore got with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The student got Mattis' phone number from a photo that was mistakenly published of a Trump bodyguard with papers including the Secretary's personal phone number. Washington state high schooler Teddy Fischer saw the photo and called the number asking for an interview and, surprisingly, Mattis called him back. The student had good questions and Mattis' answers were substantive and didn't evade the questions. If only other journalists conducted such thoughtful interviews.

Of course, I can't help but love an official whose advice to high schoolers is to study history. Mattis also answers a question about what advice he'd give a high schooler who is scared about the future of the country by advising students to realize that history tells us that we've survived much worse than whatever frightens them today. He suggests that students get involved so that they meet people of various views to broaden their perspectives.
f you do that, especially if you study history, you realize that our country has been through worse and here’s how they’ve found their way through that.

Here’s what leaders did, here’s what educators did, here’s what business people did, here’s what soldiers did, here’s what politicians did, and you can sometimes see, by weaving together that tapestry, how to go forward. You lose your paralysis, you lose your, I would almost call it unproductive worry, and you replace it with productive action.
That's a good bit of advice and I can use it with my students to sell them on why my classes are relevant to them. I know that, on the day after the election, when I had a lot of students who were very upset about the results. I reminded them that American political history is a pendulum and, while Republicans seemed to be in the catbird seat after the election, chances are that the Democrats would be swinging back into power as a reaction to Republican overreach. That's what recent political history shows us. Mattis also understands that there has been so many other times in our nation's history when things have looked worse than they do now. It helps to gain the perspective that a knowledge of history gives us.

Read the whole interview. Whatever you might think of Donald Trump, I know that I feel more secure having James Mattis heading up the Pentagon. I love the initiative of this student and his questions were quite thoughtful. I can just imagine the amazing college application essay he'll be able to write.

For a man whose supporter just tried to murder a bunch of Republican congressmen, one might think that Bernie Sanders would temper his language a bit. Sadly, his hyperbolic accusations about Republicans continue. Now he's claiming that more Americans would die every year than did on 9/11 if the Republican healthcare bill were enacted. He's basing that on a CBO analysis about how 22 - 24 million fewer Americans would have health insurance by 2026. Most of those people are those who would choose not to buy insurance or would buy a catastrophic plan without the federal mandate. But if people believe Sanders that Republican policies are going to kill 28,000 Americans each year, then is it so surprising that an extremist wacko who hears such claims might find murder a more inviting action?

Bloomberg takes at look
at the decreasing number of teenagers who have jobs.
They put forward several explanations.
Why aren't teens working? Lots of theories have been offered: They're being crowded out of the workforce by older Americans, now working past 65 at the highest rates in more than 50 years. Immigrants are competing with teens for jobs; a 2012 study found that less educated immigrants affected employment for U.S. native-born teenagers far more than for native-born adults. Parents are pushing kids to volunteer and sign up for extracurricular activities instead of working, to impress college admission counselors. College-bound teens aren't looking for work because the money doesn't go as far as it used to. "Teen earnings are low and pay little toward the costs of college," the BLS noted this year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Elite private universities charge tuition of more than $50,000.

Or maybe, as cranky old people have asserted for generations, teenagers are just getting lazy.

A recent BLS analysis offers another theory, backed up by solid data. It appears that millions of teenagers aren't working because they're studying instead.

Over the last few decades, education has taken up more and more of teenagers' time, as school districts lengthen both the school day and the academic year. During the school year, academic loads have gotten heavier. Education is also eating up teenagers' summers. Teens aren't going to summer school just because they failed a class and need to catch up. They're also enrolling in enrichment courses and taking courses for college credit.
Granted that most of the students at my school are middle class and don't need to get a job to help their families. I have noticed how few of my students have plans to have jobs over the summer. A lot of them have some sort of enrichment activity planned - some sort of program for them to learn more about some topic they're interested in. These are the students who have been in specialty classes and sports since they were toddlers. Or they're traveling. Kids are touring neat places or visiting family, particularly students whose families immigrated here and have relatives back in their home countries. It is certainly a change from when I was a teenager in the 1970s and everyone I knew had some sort of job over the summer. There are a lot fewer of those sorts of jobs it seems today.

On the other end of the spectrum, more and more Americans are working past 70.
More and more Americans are spending their golden years on the job.

Almost 19 percent of people 65 or older were working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017, according to the U.S. jobs report released on Friday. The age group’s employment/population ratio hasn’t been higher in 55 years, before American retirees won better health care and Social Security benefits starting in the late 1960s....

Certainly baby boomers are increasingly ignoring the traditional retirement age of 65. Last quarter, 32 percent of Americans 65 to 69 were employed. Even past age 70, a growing number of seniors are declining to, or unable to, retire. Last quarter, 19 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds were working, up from 11 percent in 1994.
I'm of the age when, a generation ago, I might have been considering retirement and yet I can't imagine retiring any time soon. I enjoy my job and, while I'm really enjoying my summer break, I find myself thinking about my classes for next year a lot of the time even in the summer. So why are so many people just not retiring?
A number of factors are keeping older Americans in the workforce. Many are healthier and living longer than previous generations. Some decide not to fully retire because they enjoy their jobs or just want to stay active and alert.

Others need the money. The longer you work, the easier it is to afford a comfortable retirement. Longer lives and rising health care costs have made retirement more expensive at the same time that stagnant wages and the decline of the traditional pension have made it harder to save enough.

The U.S. isn’t the only place people are planning to work longer. Around the globe, workers of all ages are moving their retirement goals later and later in life.
I fit the first two reasons. If I'm lucky, I will have 20-30 more years on this earth. As long as I'm healthy, I want to keep "active and alert."

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This is the sort of issue that it seems we should be hearing more about.
For months, Sen. Maria Cantwell has been warning in letters to the Trump administration and colleagues that Congress needs to do more to keep the nation's energy supply safe from cyberattacks. Now it appears she has a widespread attack to bolster her admonitions.

Reports from Bloomberg and The New York Times last week indicated that Russian-backed hacking groups may be responsible for recent targeted cyberattacks to nuclear power plants and grid operation system manufacturers, threatening the electric grid and the economy it supports....

DOE has acknowledged the seriousness of the threat. In its second Quadrennial Energy Review, a sweeping analysis of the energy sector conducted under the Obama administration, DOE said that the cybersecurity of the grid remains a key vulnerability, and it should be treated with the same importance as other national security threats.

The report notes the growing frequency of cyberattacks across the board in the energy industry, saying they “have not yet caused significant disruptions... but the number and sophistication of threats are increasing, and information technology systems are becoming more integrated with energy infrastructure.”
Cantwell and Senator Ron Wyden are pushing for an increase in the budget for the office in the Department of Energy tasked with cybersecurity. This isn't a partisan issue and it is exactly the sort of problem that even libertarians can agree that the federal government is responsible for. In fact, cybersecurity of all times seems to be a prime problem facing the country for businesses, governments, and even the entertainment industry. We always seem to be playing catch-up. We'll hear about some terrible hack and then the story disappears from the headlines. For example, did anything ever happen as a result of the massive 2015 hack of the Office of Personnel Management from which more than 20 million people had their personal information stolen in a giant hack?

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Well, here's one theory of why Clinton lost that I'd never heard before. If only more armed forces hadn't died over the past decade and a half and, if they lived in key states, and, if they and their loved ones voted for Clinton, she might have won.
The dead veterans theory is based on a study of the relationship between parts of the country that felt the effects of war through the loss of loved ones and pro-Trump votes. Had those loved ones made it home from the war alive, the theory goes, the election might have flipped to Clinton.

“Comparing the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, they concluded that regions that had seen high concentrations in casualties over the past 15 years of warfare saw a swing in support towards Trump,” The Intercept reports, referencing a study conducted by professors at Boston University and the University of Minnesota Law School.

“Their model also suggests that three swing states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — could very well have been winners for Clinton if their war casualties were lower,” the story adds.

Trump’s relatively anti-war rhetoric seems to have struck a chord with people close to the casualties of war, the study’s authors reason. If the dead veterans called less politically key towns home, or if they had survived, Clinton’s hawkish policies might have won her a few more votes. Maybe even enough to win the election.
That's some theory. It does seem a bit of a stretch given that, according to exit polls, 60% of those who served in the military voted for Trump versus 50% of non-veterans that voted for Clinton. Of course, that doesn't break down those who served in the military in our recent wars or in earlier ones. And it leaves out the selection bias given that those who join the military tend to be more conservative and from red states in the first place. But the researchers claim to have controlled for all of that and still find enough of a causal link between military casualties in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to posit that, if these states had had a lower casualty rates, Clinton would have won those states.

I'd be more interested in a study looking at increases in states in people's Obamacare premiums and correlating that with the vote. Given the average increase, according to HHS, Pennsylvanians saw a 53% increase; Wisconsinites saw a 16% increase, and Michiganers saw a 7% increase in their premiums from 2016 to 2017. Whatever way you look at it, that's a large increase for one year. Tack on the increase in deductibles which, from 2016 to 2017, are going up from 15% to 21% under Obamacare, depending on your plan.