Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Trump Just Blurted Out the Real Reason He Hired Matt Whitaker

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Jonathan Chait explains, in New York:

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” tweetedPresident Trump this morning. But why would the president have access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation, which is supposed to be firewalled away from his influence?

There’s a strong chance Trump is just making this up, of course. On the other hand, over the last week, the Mueller investigation has been supervised by acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who would have access to the investigation’s inner workings. It might be the case that Trump actually has access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation because he finally has somebody running the Justice Department who is pliant and unethical enough to give it to him.

There has been a persistent disbelief among many observers throughout the Trump presidency that the underlying reality is as bad as it appears on the surface. But the scumminess of the arrangement is increasingly naked. Here, lying about in plain  sight, is Trump’s response yesterday to a question from the conservative Daily Caller, which asked, “Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie?”

In response Trump embarked on a rant about the Mueller investigation:

I knew [Whitaker] only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

 

It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

Trump is all but confessing that he hired Whitaker to stop the “illegal” Mueller probe.

Whitaker may not have the opportunity to squelch the Mueller probe. He has to clear two legal hurdles: First, the constitutionality of his appointment is being challenged — it is not clear whether a president has the authority to install an acting attorney general without Senate confirmation. Second, Whitaker might be required to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, since he knew and worked closely with Sam Clovis, a member of the campaign and a subject the of the investigation.

But what is almost certainly not going to stop Whitaker is any inherent sense of professional ethics. Whitaker’s history includes a stint with World Patent Marketing, a scam firm that was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, and is currently under FBI investigation. Its basic business model appears to have consisted of finding people with ideas for inventions, persuading them that World Patent Marketing could turn the idea into a commercial success, and bilking them for large payments, in return for which they would get nothing. Whitaker’s role at the firm involved using his legal and political connections to threaten the defrauded customers.

The Washington Post goes deeper into the scam. The story confirms that, despite the Department’s official claim that “acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity,” he was made aware of complaints of fraud at the time. “FTC investigators found that Whitaker received complaints about the company in his role as an advisory board member,” reports the Post.

If your assumption that somehow this will work out rests on the belief that Whitaker will conform to the ethical norms of the legal profession, you need to think about the people he has worked with in the past. You also need to consider  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 8:04 pm

A day’s report

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Much productive running about on an overcast (but not raining) day. No walk, but 4000 steps just doing things.

Hearing aids: Lewis at Oak Bay Hearing Clinic pumped up the volume on my hearing aids. (The Wife and I had noticed my increasing use of “Say again.”) This meant: a hearing test, a programming change to the hearing aids regarding the relative amplification of different frequencies, and more powerful (though still tiny) speakers to fit into my ears. The difference is already noticeable, and it was a bargain at CAD$240 ($95 hearing test, $100 for the new speakers ($50/ear), and $45 for the reprogramming). Just to give you an idea of what you will someday face.

Then shopping: Farm & Field for a chuck roast (to be cut into tiny pieces for chili), a pork belly round to roast (on parchment paper: I learned my lesson), and three pieces braised pork belly (to be heated on parchment paper).

Then I got some pitted Greek brine-cured olives for the Umbrian Chicken Alla Cacciatora I plan to make on Sunday (recipe below). That was a Whole Foods stop, and at my regular supermarket I picked up the rest of the chilli ingredients along with two 8-oz steelhead fillets for tonight. I did get some fuyu persimmons (zero points).

So altogether a good day.

Umbrian-Style Chicken Alla Cacciatora

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 lbs (approx) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks

1 onion, cut in half vertically and sliced

6 to 8 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoon capers
1/2 cup brine-cured olives, black and green, with pits or pitted
2 sprigs rosemary
1 handful sage leaves, chopped
Salt and black pepper

1 cup dry white wine

Zest and juice of 1-2 lemons
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

One family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs is about 3 lbs, which is what I use. Or use 5 bone-in, skin-on thighs. And now I’m using boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into chunks.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in my large sauté pan. Add chicken pieces and sear over medium heat until golden on all sides, about 15 minutes.

Turn heat to low, add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, and add onions. Cook, stirring frequently until onions caramelize, about 15 minutes. Stuff will stick to the bottom, but will be deglazed later with the wine.

Add minced garlic, capers, olives, rosemary sprigs, and chopped sage leaves. Season with salt and black pepper.

After a couple of minutes, when everything smells fragrant, add wine. Scrape bottom of pan to incorporate all the browned bits.

Cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender and cooked through (165 degrees), about 15 minutes. Add water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve, reheat if necessary, then add lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired. Remove the rosemary sprig and serve. Would be wonderful over rice if I ate starch.

Recipe originator: Yes, do cook the chicken with the onions: the chicken absorbs the flavor of the aromatics. Also, do use olive with pits because of the woody flavor the pits add.

The original can be found on the NY Times Cooking site if you pay enough.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 7:05 pm

Suicide in America is an epidemic, but read: The Best Way To Save People From Suicide

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Jason Cherkis writes at Huffington Post:

It was still dark outside when Amanda woke up to the sound of her alarm, got out of bed and decided to kill herself. She wasn’t going to do it then, not at 5:30 in the morning on a Friday. She told herself she would do it sometime after work.

Amanda showered. She put on khakis and a sweater. She fed Abby, her little house cat. Before walking out the door, she sent her therapist an email. “Not a good night last night, had a disturbing dream,” she wrote. “Got to try and get through the day, hope I can shift my mind enough to focus. Only plan tonight is to come home and take a nap.”

Amanda was a 29-year-old nurse, pale and thin—a quiet rule-follower. She had thought about taking a sick day, but she didn’t want to upset her co-workers or draw attention to herself. As usual, she arrived at the office earlier than just about everyone else, needing the extra time to get comfortable. She had taken a pay cut to join this clinic outside Seattle, in part because she wanted to treat low-income mothers and pregnant women. Some of her patients were in recovery, others were homeless, several had fled physically abusive men. She was inspired by their resilience and felt only slightly jealous of the ones who had found antidepressants that worked. That day, September 28, 2007, was her first shift seeing patients without a supervisor watching over her.

Amanda’s schedule was relatively light: three, maybe four patients. She measured their blood pressure, their weight. She ran through her mandated checklist of questions. Have you relapsed since your last visit? Can you afford your newborn’s car seat? Do you have a history of mental health problems? She hated those questions. There was no way she would answer them herself. Too invasive, too personal. In an email she’d sent her therapist a month earlier, she confessed that she would occasionally put on a “mask of normalcy.” Sure, patients were always commenting on how upbeat she was, but “the part they didn’t see,” she wrote, “was me turning around, me leaving the room, me getting in my car at the end of the day, taking a deep breath and me crying all the way home. I have always done what is needed to be done and when I can stop pretending I let it out.”

Her first thoughts of suicide had come shortly after her 14th birthday. Her parents were going through an ugly divorce just as her social anxiety and her perfectionism at school kicked in hard. At 20, she tried to kill herself for the first time. For about the next decade, Amanda didn’t make a few attempts. She made dozens. Most times, she would take a bunch of pills just before bedtime. That way, her roommates would think she was sleeping. In the mornings, though, she would wake up drained and spaced out, despairing that she could fail even at this. Then she would resolve not to speak of it to anyone. To her, suicide attempts weren’t cries for help but secrets to be zealously guarded.

“What in the world is it going to take for me to feel better?” Amanda asked in an exasperated diary entry from 2004. Therapy wasn’t much help—too often, her pain was met with baffling ignorance or worse. A counselor at her church suggested that her depression would go away if she prayed more. Once, a therapist refused to talk during their session unless she opened up; she never went back after that. The college where she studied nursing forced her to take a leave of absence over her depression and anxiety. The day she got the news, she made another suicide attempt.

Ursula Whiteside, Amanda’s new therapist, was different. She was just 29 years old, a graduate student working under supervision at a University of Washington lab. Amanda was one of her first clients. But Whiteside was preternaturally sensitive. She could tell how just sitting in the waiting room stoked Amanda’s social anxiety. And she made it clear that she would go to creative lengths to get Amanda talking. During one session, Whiteside stood on her head. In another, she took Amanda into a children’s playroom, thinking the absurd change of scenery would shake something loose. The rare moments when Amanda responded with a dry joke were gold.

Still, there were sessions that ended in frustration, so they agreed to email between appointments. Amanda wrote to Ursula whenever the mood hit her, late at night mostly. The emails could be short, no more than a few paragraphs, but here, more than anywhere else, she was matter-of-fact about her suicidal thinking. “I wanted to tell you what went on this weekend and I’m pretty sure I will not be able to tell you in person,” she wrote on August 26. “I survived the weekend, which I guess was the goal. … I panicked Fri. night and I took 2 extra pills. I usually just take 1, Friday night, I took 3. It was stupid, I just wanted to sleep, it was stupid because it wouldn’t do anything. … I also ended up going over to my friends house last night. She kept me safe last night, even though she doesn’t know it.”

Whiteside’s replies often teemed with exclamation points and underlined words. She knew it was important to remain upbeat. But a month later, when she received the email Amanda sent that Friday morning before work, she wrote back quickly and with little of her typical flair. They’d had a session the day before, and Amanda seemed to be hiding more than usual. Whiteside felt it was necessary to jolt her into being more forthcoming.

“If you are planning on killing yourself this evening or this weekend, I need to know,” Whiteside wrote just before 7 a.m.

Then she waited. 10 a.m. Noon. No reply. By 1:30 p.m., Whiteside called her supervisor to discuss strategy. If Whiteside’s instincts were correct, and she asked the police to do a welfare check, she could save Amanda’s life. If she was wrong, she could destroy the trust they had built over their months together, and Amanda might not return for another session. Whiteside started typing up notes. “I’m glad that she is telling me something,” she wrote. “But something is getting in the way of her being completely forthright. … As good as I am, I can not magically help someone feel better. … So terrifying that she is going to go all the way to the bottom.”

Amanda left work at 4:30 p.m. and stopped at a local pharmacy to refill a prescription. She wanted to make sure she had enough antidepressants to successfully overdose. She then went home and gathered up other sleeping meds so that she could mix them together with the new pills. She never replied to Whiteside. She didn’t write a suicide note. After dark, she put on her pajamas and brushed her teeth. She took a deep breath, methodically swallowed one pill after another, dozens and dozens of them, laid down on her bed and drifted off to sleep.

Meanwhile, Whiteside had a lot of work to do, but her mind kept returning to Amanda. She was so worried that she forgot that she had driven to the university that morning and took a bus home. She kept leaving voicemails and texts, telling Amanda that she cared about her, that she was confident the therapy could work. That night, she finally called the police. She knew the risks; she just didn’t care anymore.

But when the cops arrived, Amanda was nowhere to be found: The address Whiteside had was out of date. Helpfully, an old neighbor gave the police the number of one of Amanda’s friends. The friend, though, insisted on meeting the police in person, eating up valuable time. By the time she took them to Amanda’s studio apartment, it was late, maybe five or six hours after Amanda had ingested the pills. They found Amanda in bed, alive but clearly out of it. There were empty pill bottles nearby, cat toys underfoot. Her friend shook her awake. In a sleepy whisper, Amanda confirmed what she had done.

Several hours later, Amanda came to in the emergency room. She had an IV drip in her arm. An oxygen mask covered her face. Medical personnel monitored her extremely low blood pressure and x-rayed her chest. She could hardly speak, but the staff got enough information to describe her in their medical records as “a 29-year-old previously healthy, except for her psychiatric history.”

In time, Amanda was transferred to another part of the hospital, where a “sitter” was assigned to observe her in case she tried to harm herself. During a psychological assessment, she frequently dozed off. She couldn’t believe she was here again. She didn’t call any friends or family members. Her state of mind was exactly the same as it was when she started downing the pills. Amanda still wanted to die.

Over the last two decades, suicide has slowly and then very suddenly announced itself as a full-blown national emergency. Its victims accompany factory closings and the cutting of government assistance. They haunt post-9/11 military bases and hollow the promise of Silicon Valley high schools. Just about everywhere, psychiatric units and crisis hotlines are maxed out. According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are now more than twice as many suicides in the U.S. (45,000) as homicides; they are the 10th leading cause of death. You have to go all the way back to the dawn of the Great Depression to find a similar increase in the suicide rate. Meanwhile, in many other industrialized Western countries, suicides have been flat or steadily decreasing.

What makes these numbers so scary is that they can’t be explained away by any sort of demographic logic. Black women, white men, teenagers, 60-somethings, Hispanics, Native Americans, the rich, the poor—they are all struggling. Suicide rates have spiked in every state but one (Nevada) since 1999. Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths were shocking to everybody but the epidemiologists who track the data.

And these are just the reported cases. None of the numbers above account for the thousands of drug overdose deaths that are just suicides by another name. If you widen the lens a bit to include those contemplating suicide, the problem starts to take on the contours of an epidemic. In 2014, the federal government estimated that 9.4 million American adults had seriously considered the idea.

There’s an inherent lack of closure to suicide. Even when people write notes, they can reveal so little. Suicides often leave loved ones, acquaintances and co-workers to question themselves for the rest of their lives. And in their own grief, they, too, can entertain dangerous thoughts. “With suicide you have that added trauma to it,” said Julie Cerel, the president of the American Association of Suicidology. “The ‘why’ question of trying to search for meaning when there’s no meaning available—If I only had a note. If I only talked to the last person that they talked to. The ‘onlys’ can be torturous.’” Last year, Cerel published a study examining the consequences of suicide and found that each one could affect as many as 135 other people.

The fundamental mystery of suicide has long made it an object of fear and contempt within the medical establishment. Since the 1950s, public health officials have tried hotlines, individual therapy, group therapy, shock therapy and forced hospitalizations. Doctors have taken away people’s shoelaces and belts and checked in on attempt survivors every 15 minutes to make sure they are still safe. They have coerced patients into signing contracts swearing that they would not kill themselves. They have piled on psychiatric medications with ever-more invasive side effects, only to watch the number of suicides continue to climb.

Even now, most mental health professionals have no idea what to do when a suicidal person walks through their door. They’re untrained, they’re under-resourced and, not surprisingly, their responses can be remarkably callous. In an emergency room, an attempt survivor might be cuffed to a bed and made to wait hours to be officially admitted, sometimes days. Finding help beyond the ER can be harder yet.

“You take someone who is not doing well, shutting down, and throw them in a system that requires them to have the highest problem-solving abilities and emotional regulation,” said Jeff Sung, a psychiatrist colleague of Whiteside’s who works with high-risk clients and trains others to do so. According to federal data, the majority of those in need of mental health services do not receive it.

When confronted with the coldness of her colleagues, Whiteside grows exasperated. Because while the dead are invisible to most, she knows them. She gets how suicidal thoughts have their own seductive logic, how there is comfort in the notion that there is a surefire way to end one’s pain. She sees why people might turn to these thoughts when they hit a crisis, even a minor one like missing a bus to work or accidently bending the corner of a favorite book. That’s why suicidal urges are so much more dangerous than depression—people can view death as an answer to a problem. And she knows that many patients of hers will always feel vulnerable to these thoughts. She has described her job as an endless war.

Whiteside was born in Colville, Washington, 40 years ago, the first child of parents drawn to adventurous work wherever they could find it: building an oil pipeline in Alaska, raising cattle and conducting child health screenings in rural Washington, driving trucks through the Midwest. By the time she attended junior high, in Minnesota, Whiteside had enrolled in six different schools in three different states. But instead of turning her bitter or shy, all the moving seemed to sharpen her empathic powers. She became one of those canny little people who could intuit when those around her were in pain.

And she could be impulsive in her efforts to help. When she was in eighth grade, one of her best friends called her frantic and in tears. The friend didn’t go into detail, but said that she needed to escape her house immediately. So Whiteside planned a rescue. Shortly after midnight, Whiteside snuck out of a window in her family’s basement apartment and stole her mother’s sedan. She didn’t think about the fact that she couldn’t drive legally or that her friend’s house was 8 miles away or that the roads were icy and covered in snow. She didn’t care that she weighed only 80 pounds and could barely see over the steering wheel. She made it past the McDonald’s, down the hill, to the one-lane country road where her friend lived before crashing the car into a ditch in front of the house.

The older Whiteside got, the clearer it became that she was better at looking after others than herself. In high school, she struggled with her body image along with depression and anxiety. Like her future clients, she found it excruciatingly difficult to talk about what she was experiencing. The idea of asking for help was “the scariest thing I could imagine,” she said. During one point in college, she sent her mother, who had lost her own brother to suicide, a lengthy letter detailing her ups and downs. “I’m writing you this letter because I often have a hard time saying out loud what I mean,” she confessed. “I am just chicken.”

She wanted so badly to understand the mechanics of despair, including her own. “Everything I do has to be extreme,” she wrote in her diary. “I go through phases where I absolutely love myself—I go through others where all I can think about is knives and bridges.” At the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she read mental health textbooks and academic journals in her spare time. She was drawn to the field as a practical way of untangling life’s most intractable problems. “I took my first psychology class and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you can actually change things,’” she said. “It’s not magic.”

Before her junior year, Whiteside transferred to the University of Washington so she could learn from Marsha Linehan, a legend in the field of suicide research. Linehan had pioneered a powerful form of treatment called dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, which trains patients how to reroute their suicidal impulses. It can be grueling, emotionally exhausting work that requires people to spend several hours a week in individual and group therapy, and therapists to do check-in calls as needed throughout the week. Linehan had a principle for all of her students: Clients came first, your own life came second.

It couldn’t have suited Whiteside better. “I’ve found some semblance of passion,” she wrote in her diary at the time. “I have to think of myself and I have to think of my soul and I have to remember those in most need, those experiencing suffering beyond my imagination.” In a letter of recommendation, Linehan wrote that Whiteside had “become unflappable.”

And then Whiteside sprinted nose-first into the wall of the modern-day behavioral health care system. She took a clinical internship in the psychiatric department of Harborview Medical Center in downtown Seattle, an under-resourced, grim institution. The main goal, she kept hearing, was triage. She was there to stabilize suicidal patients, nothing more, because no one had the time to do more.

Whiteside was tasked with probing patients for their treatment history and state of mind. There was the man who killed his dog and shot himself in the stomach. The immigrant who set himself on fire. The college student who had been found walking in the middle of a street clutching a teddy bear. Each one, she felt, was desperate for any form of help or kindness.

“I was absolutely insane, completely unconcerned with life,” one former patient from that era said. “They had no idea what to do with me. But Ursula was looking at me in a way where she was actually waiting for me to respond. … It wasn’t, ‘What are your symptoms? What medications are you on?’ It was, ‘Tell me a little bit about your story.’” Whiteside knew that people who leave the hospital after a suicide attempt are at a greater risk of harming themselves again within 90 days. And yet the doctors at Harborview were only providing referrals for clinics most patients would never visit or putting patients on waiting lists for therapists who might not be right for them. “These patients were basically at this critical juncture,” Whiteside said, “and we were fucking blowing it.”

After her patients left the hospital, she couldn’t stop thinking about them. So she began tracking them down, calling to see if they needed help or just to let them know they were on her mind. She handed out her phone number to patients before they left the hospital. On the back, she’d also leave a personal note. Anything to keep them tethered to the world. For six months, she called a woman who had made an attempt after a breakup. The woman took Whiteside’s calls for a while, until she didn’t. Whiteside still doesn’t know what happened to her. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 2:07 pm

Facebook Betrayed America

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Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

Seven months ago, Mark Zuckerberg sat before Congress and said he was sorry about the fake news and the data breaches—and that it wasn’t really Facebook’s fault. The company’s founder and CEO had been hauled before Congress to answer for what became known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political consulting firm harvested Facebook data to sow electoral discord to help elect Donald Trump. Zuckerberg, appearing contrite before members of the House and Senate, insisted that Facebook’s flaws stemmed from the company’s commitment to free discourse and improving the world. “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company,” he said. “For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring. … But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.”

But a New York Times report published on Wednesday tells a different story. While Zuckerberg was sitting doe-eyed before Congress, insisting that Facebook only wants to connect people, his company was in fact imitating some of the worst behavior on Facebook to counter the barrage of negative stories the company was facing.

Zuckerberg may have insisted that all of the criticism of Facebook was a byproduct of the company’s core mission, but a crisis PR firm contracted by Facebook linked the site’s critics to George Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire who is often at the center of right-wing attacks and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. At the same time, top executives, notably Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, were discouraging the company from investigating Russian activity on the site.

This response exposes the hypocrisy at the center of the company: While Zuckerberg was promising to return to the company’s utopian vision of bringing humanity closer together, it was doing everything it could to sow division, all in order to steer clear of negative coverage and eventual regulation.


Facebook has been flooded with negative stories since 2016. First, there was its role in the presidential election, when Russian agents used the platformto spread narratives designed to increase support for Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Over the next two years, the ease with which Facebook could be gamed to spread false and divisive stories was demonstrated again and again. The social network became complicit in at least one genocide, in Myanmar, and has been shown again and again to benefit bad actors and dictators—and to just make people unhappy in general. At the same time, the company’s efforts to curb the flow of fake and biased news have been met with furious criticism from the right.

Speaking to Congress, Zuckerberg repeatedly returned to the narrative that Facebook is a net good for humanity. It brings people together and helps them share their stories, he argued. It plays a central role in improving quality of life on an unprecedented, global scale. “My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together. Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook,” he said, dismissing his company’s main source of revenue—targeted advertising—as a negative externality.

While Zuckerberg was traveling the country, posing with cows, apologizing for Facebook’s missteps, and pushing the idea that the platform existed to pull people together rather than pull them apart, Facebook executives were engaged in a furious strategy to protect it:

While Mr. Zuckerberg conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, persuading a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

The Times piece reveals Facebook executives and lobbyists’ campaign of deflection. They pushed the intelligence community not to challenge the company’s response to Russian interference and worked media organizations to push negative stories about the privacy failings of their competitors, such as Google and Apple. Executives berated employees for investigating Russian interference, with Sandberg telling them it “exposed the company legally.” Other executives warned that the extent of Russian interference would be bad for the company politically, because it would reinforce narratives about the 2016 election, while potentially alienating users who had been deceived by fake news. Zuckerberg and Sandberg “ignored warning signs” of data misuse and “then sought to conceal them from view” once they were revealed, according to the Times.

Those who pushed the company to take action were warned that it would only result in political backlash from the right, with former Bush administration deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, telling employees that “if Facebook implicated Russia further… Republicans would accuse the company of siding with Democrats.” Any action, moreover, could alienate conservative users of the site. According to the Times, Kaplan said that “if Facebook pulled down the Russians’ fake pages, regular Facebook users might also react with outrage at having been deceived: His own mother-in-law, Mr. Kaplan said, had followed a Facebook page created by Russian trolls.”

Kaplan has a point, to an extent. Republicans made a fuss after Facebook (and Twitter) made minor changes aimed at curbing misinformation. Republicans, including Trump, have suggested that conservatives are being “shadow-banned” from social media platforms, while others have suggested tech companies are working to suppress conservative viewpoints. There is no evidence that they are, but the narrative has taken hold. That doesn’t excuse Facebook’s actions. But it was out of fear of conservative backlash that Facebook avoided taking meaningful action to make its platform more secure and less toxic.

The Times investigation is a damning portrait of a company in crisis and puts Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in a harsher light. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 1:35 pm

When It Comes to Rape, Just Because a Case Is Cleared Doesn’t Mean It’s Solved

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Whenever performance is measured, some will work to change the measure without changing performance. I call this “bending the needle” on the analogy of a gauge needle moving into the red zone, signifying a problem, with some thinking that bending the needle so that it points again to the green zone will solve the problem (magical thinking) or it will at least get management off their backs.

Bernice Yeung, ProPublica, Mark Greenblatt and Mark Fahey, Newsy, and Emily Harris, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting report in ProPublica:

Andy Leisher didn’t like what he was seeing on the security cameras from his post at the front desk of the Ramada Inn in Janesville, Wisconsin. On the closed-circuit television in front of him, Leisher watched as a man in his 30s kissed what appeared to be a teenager in the motel hot tub.

It put him on alert. “It just felt awkward,” Leisher said of the scene. “She just seemed really young, and he seemed really old. Or too old to be with her.”

When Leisher, a part-time pastor, confirmed that the girl was 16, he called the police. A few hours later, police arrested 31-year-old Bryan Kind, and he was charged with having sex with a child and possession of child pornography. He’s pleaded not guilty.

After collecting Kind’s cellphones, Janesville police also found naked photos of a girl from Maryland, and they sent the information to authorities there.

It wasn’t news to the Baltimore County Police Department. About a month before the May 2017 arrest, the department closed its investigation into Kind on allegations that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.

It went on Baltimore County’s books as a success, another rape case cleared.

But Kind had walked free. He wasn’t charged with any crime. The Police Department hadn’t arrested him, even though it had a thick investigative file on him.

Across the country, dozens of law enforcement agencies are making it appear as though they have solved a significant share of their rape cases when they simply have closed them, according to an investigation by Newsy, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica based on data from more than 60 police agencies nationwide.

They are able to declare cases resolved through what’s known as exceptional clearance. Federal guidelines allow police to use the classification when they have enough evidence to make an arrest and know who and where the suspect is, but can’t make an arrest for reasons outside their control.

Although criminal justice experts say the designation is supposed to be used sparingly, our data analysis shows that many departments rely heavily on exceptional clearance, which can make it appear that they are better at solving rape cases than they actually are.

Because exceptional clearance data is not readily accessible to the public, we read through hundreds of police reports and sent more than 100 public records requests to the largest law enforcement agencies in the country. We analyzed data for more than 70,000 rape cases, providing an unprecedented look at how America’s police close them.

Nearly half of the law enforcement agencies that provided records cleared more rapes through exceptional means than by actually arresting a suspect in 2016, the data analysis shows.

The Baltimore County Police Department, for example, reported to the public that it cleared 70 percent of its rape cases in 2016, nearly twice the national average. In reality, the department made arrests about 30 percent of the time, according to its internal data. The rest were exceptionally cleared.

About a dozen departments that provided data had twice as many exceptional clearances as arrests in 2016. To the public, this effectively made it seem as though they had solved three times the number of rapes that they actually had.

For example, the Oakland Police Department in California cleared 60 percent of rapes reported in 2016, according to agency data. For every case they resolved through arrest, Oakland police cleared more than three by exceptional means, data provided by the department shows.

In Hillsborough County, Florida, home to Tampa, the Sheriff’s Office cleared 12 percent of rapes in 2016 by arrest. It cleared more than three times as many by exceptional means.

In Austin, Texas, where two out of three cleared rape investigations were closed by exceptional means in 2016, Police Chief Brian Manley said the high numbers are driven by the fact that so few victims decide to cooperate with police.

“It’s the unfortunate reality of sexual assault in this country,” he said.

Officials from Baltimore County, Oakland and Hillsborough County declined to comment about their exceptional clearance rates.

Cassia Spohn is the director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a co-author of seminal research on exceptional clearance. She said agencies’ overuse of exceptional clearance is “misleading at best and duplicitous at worst.”

“The public is concerned about the degree to which the police are able to arrest individuals who commit serious violent crimes,” Spohn said. “And if the vast majority of those clearances do not involve the arrest of a suspect, what does that say about that law enforcement agency?”


In November 2015, the stepfather of a 13-year-old girl from the suburbs of Baltimore went to the local Child Advocacy Center, run by the Police Department, to report that Bryan Kind, a 29-year-old man, was using a mobile app to chat with his stepdaughter in a way that he found alarming and inappropriate.

The case that emerged would become an example of how police departments close investigations by exceptional clearance without having fully exhausted all available avenues. It also represents a case in which the classification was used improperly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 7:56 am

Alt-Eleven with a soft brush, and then Baby Smooth

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This Mühle silvertip has a wonderfully fluffy knot that is soft and pleasant on the face—rather like the G.B. Kent BK4, in fact, though obviously a very different handle treatment. The handle of this Mühle brush is quite hefty, in fact. The lather from Phoenix Artisan’s Alt-Eleven was thick and creamy, the RazoRock Baby Smooth did its usual superb job. A dot of Alt-Eleven balm, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 7:48 am

Posted in Shaving

Great story: This 31-year-old had had enough. So she ran. And won.

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Karen Tumulty writes in the Washington Post:

What finally did it for Kathy Hoffman was watching the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos nearly two years ago.

Hoffman, then a 31-year-old speech therapist in a suburban Phoenix public school district, could not contain her dismay as she saw President Trump’s nominee for education secretary stumble over basic policy questions and suggest that guns should be allowed in schools at which a grizzly bear might appear.

“It was very clear from many of her statements she had never spent any time in a school,” Hoffman recalls.

So she turned to her husband, Justin, and said, “You’re going to think I’m crazy . . .”

Thus began one of the most unlikely stories of an election season that has seen more than its share of them.

A few weeks later, Hoffman announced her candidacy to become Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction. Over the next 21 months, she drove so many miles across this vast state that she wore out her 2004 Prius and had to buy a new one.

Everywhere she went, her message was the same: “I kept talking about my students and my colleagues. I kept it very focused on my classroom experience.”

Initially, not even the teachers unions took her seriously. But astonishingly, Hoffman’s Prius-powered campaign succeeded. She upset seasoned politicians in both the primary and general contests, and became the first Democrat in more than a quarter of a century to be elected the state’s education superintendent.

Now, she is preparing to take the reins of a system that ranks third-lowest in the country on spending per pupil. This year, thousands of Arizona teachers walked out of schools to protest low pay and cuts in resources. On Nov. 6, the state’s voters also gave a resounding no to Proposition 305, which would have drastically expanded publicly funded vouchers for private schools, potentially starving public education even more.

Hoffman’s victory speaks to some of the larger themes for which the 2018 midterm elections will be remembered — one of them being the flood of first-time candidates up and down the ballot who ran and won.

With their life experiences and outsider credibility, they were the antidote to cynicism.

Hoffman also ran at a moment of burgeoning activism by frustrated educators across the nation. There were statewide teacher strikes not only in Arizona but also in West Virginia and Oklahoma, and smaller protests in Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado.

The American Federation of Teachers counts Hoffman as one of more than 300  of its members who ran for office — triple what the organization had seen in the past. More than 100 of them won, including more than 80 who will be joining state legislatures across the country, where most public education policy is set. In Congress, 2016’s National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, will become the first African American woman to represent Connecticut.

The main thing Hoffman had going for her, however, was her own tenacity.

“Most people would have said she wouldn’t have had a chance to win, but she just kept knocking out opponent after opponent,” said Arizona Federation of Teachers President Ralph Quintana, who noted that neither his organization nor the Arizona Education Association endorsed Hoffman in the Democratic primary.

It was easy to understand the skepticism, given how outmatched she seemed. Her primary opponent, David Schapira, was a former minority leader of the state Senate. Hoffman won by four percentage points.

In the general election, Hoffman was up against Frank Riggs, a charter-school-movement leader who had also been a three-term congressman in California. Riggs called Hoffman “a very nice young person” but shrugged her off as “inexperienced and extreme.”

When Hoffman went to bed on election night, she was 11,000 votes behind. By the time she woke up, the gap had narrowed to 8,000.

Over the next few days, with most attention riveted on the counting of ballots in Arizona’s photo-finish U.S. Senate race, Hoffman obsessively refreshed the secretary of state’s website, watching her own progress as she steadily gained and eventually overtook Riggs by more than two percentage points. She also, for the first time in months, managed to make it to a yoga class. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2018 at 7:38 pm

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