Later On

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

Thousands of Blacks Are Denied Voting Rights Because They’re Poor

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I didn’t know this. Kevin Drum writes:

I did not know this:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being denied the right to vote because they are poor. In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money — roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population — have been struck from voting rolls.

AL.com adds a bit more detail:

In Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

In a recent paper, Marc Meredith and Michael Morse calculate that in Alabama, the fees and fines levied on felons amount to an average of about $5,000 per person, and half of the money owed is in the form of legal fees. Here’s how those fees break down: . . .

Continue reading.

In Alabama, voting is a privilege, not a right. Voting is supposed to be a right.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 3:10 pm

The NHL (and the NFL) have much to answer for: ‘I Have No Idea How to Tell This Horror Story’

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The NHL and NFL care only about the money they make and care nothing about the health of their players. From the NY Times:

John Branch, a sports reporter at The New York Times, has been in sporadic contact via text messaging and email with Walter Peat since writing about him and his son Stephen, a former N.H.L. player.

At the time of the article, in June 2016, Stephen Peat was 36 and experiencing debilitating headaches and violent mood swings. Peat was primarily an enforcer, a player designated to drop his gloves and square off in fist-to-fist combat with an opponent. The Peats presumed that Stephen’s problems were rooted in brain trauma sustained on the ice in so many fights.

Walter Peat, the head saw filer at a lumber mill in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, gave The Times permission to publish the texts and emails he had sent John over the previous 18 months. Some have been trimmed for concision.

(Stephen disputes his father’s accounts and said, “I am disappointed in my father since I once held him so high on a pedestal.”)

JUNE 7, 2016

Again, we thank you for doing our story, which hasn’t ended yet. I just hope Stephen can get some help, going forward. We had a great day yesterday, as just the 2 of us went boating for the day. Beautiful day, making memories together.

DEC. 30, 2016: John is copied on an email to a doctor with the N.H.L. Players’ Association.

Dr. Rizos,

We are at a critical point in Stephen’s health. I am afraid, Stephen may become another statistic in NHL players who’s life is ended due to brain injuries suffered from playing. We are desperate for help, as we have run out of resources and energy to cope with this. The NHL has offered zero help. I am sorry we haven’t contacted you sooner, but Stephen is stubborn, and proud. It has gone past that, and hope someone will help. He is suffering badly from memory loss, depression, extreme headaches, and at times suicide thoughts. Along with this, tough when he get frustrated and anger comes out. He has got violent a couple times, and at times I am afraid for my life. I love my son very much, and you have no idea how much this hurts to see him like this. Please help.

JUNE 1, 2017

Just an update on Stephen, not sure if the NHL might want to know, but Stephen is in lockup, been arrested 2 times in the last week for parole violation. May spend the next 6 months in jail, he is real bad shape, and like I said before, I don’t have the resources or the knowledge to deal with this. I saw him yesterday, looks horrible, he is homeless. I know one can lead a horse to water theory, but I am afraid this could be very close to his end. At times he has no idea who he is or where he is.

Stephen needs special medical attention badly, as I also believe he has gone back to self medicating, not sure, but you can’t imagine what bad shape he is in. I fear he may not make it out of lock up, but there is nothing I can do, or don’t know what to do. The system is flawed.

He is in lock up now, most likely won’t get released now. Only violation is not seeing his parole officer, but he forgets, a complete mess right now. Probably the safest place for him, but he won’t get fixed in a cement cell.

JUNE 7, 2017

I will be honest, my health has suffered thru this, and I am at a financial crisis as Stephen has gone through $120,000 since getting out of rehab. And he is demanding more every day, to a point if I continue this, I will be on the street. Stephen can’t comprehend my financial stress he has put on me. I went to meet him at Clover Towing the other day, Stephen looked in real bad shape, as he didn’t even know I was there. I had to leave, and stop in a parking lot next door and just broke down. The police were called by the towing company and they took him to jail. He should be in a hospital, not a jail, we can talk more about this. I will say I have had to get a no contact order as I fear for my safety now. If he is in a state where he doesn’t know who I am, it scares me.

JUNE 14, 2017 . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 3:02 pm

Controversial sugar industry study on cancer uncovered

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Jacqueline Howard of CNN reports:

An old study is now shedding new light on the sugar industry’s controversial past, and its secrets are being revealed in a new paper.

The 1960s study, which suggests a link between a high-sugar diet and high blood cholesterol levels and cancer in rats, was sponsored by the sugar industry, according to the perspective paper published in the journal PLOS Biology on Tuesday.

Yet the study itself was never published and has been forgotten until now.

“All we know is that the plug got pulled and nothing got published,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and a co-author of the new paper.

“Whether the investigator didn’t bother to try or whether he tried and failed, we don’t know. Or whether there was some kind of clause in his agreement with the sugar people that precluded him from publishing, we don’t know,” he said.

This enigmatic study seems to provide evidence of the harmful health impacts of eating too much sugar. It also suggests that a group then called the Sugar Research Foundation might have manipulated scientific research in its favor, according to the new paper.

The authors of the new paper previously conducted a separate historical analysis of sugar industry-related documents and studies.

That analysis, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggested that the Sugar Research Foundation sponsored a research program that successfully cast doubt about the health hazards of a high-sugar diet and rather promoted fat “as the dietary culprit” in health concerns such as heart disease.

“The kind of science manipulation that the tobacco industry engaged in is exactly the same kind of behavior that we’ve documented in these papers from the sugar industry,” said Glantz, who has also studied the tobacco industry.

How a forgotten study gets found

The foundation, now called the Sugar Association, spoke out against that analysis last year and has contested the new PLOS Biology paper, telling CNN that it’s “not actually a study, but a perspective: a collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly five decades ago, conducted by a group of researchers and funded by individuals and organizations that are known critics of the sugar industry.”

The association also noted that the study described in the new paper ended without publication partly due to being “significantly delayed” and “consequently over budget.”

“We don’t know what would have happened had this study come out differently and showed no effect of sugar,” Glantz said. “I would bet that it would have been published, and they would be thumping the drums about it.”

Cristin Kearns, an assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry and lead author of the paper, said she learned about the long-lost study while collecting and analyzing letters between executives at the Sugar Research Foundation and various scientists from 1959 to 1971.

Then she noticed that the study was mentioned in . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 1:37 pm

Everything wrong with the ‘SNL’ letter supporting Al Franken

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Molly Roberts makes some very good points in her column in the Washington Post:

Well, he didn’t do anything to me.

That, in so many words, is what three dozen women who worked on “Saturday Night Live” said in a letter supporting Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Tuesday.

“What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms Tweeden, and to the public,” the women wrote. And later, “We would like to acknowledge that not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behavior; and mention our sincere appreciation that he treated each of us with the utmost respect and regard.”

Good, I guess? Franken has been accused of unwanted sexual contact by two women, including radio host Leeann Tweeden, but apparently he refrained from groping at least 36. Though this character testimony may at first seem relevant to any accounting of Franken’s misdeeds, look closer and it’s not the least bit helpful.

It’s unclear what the letter seeks to prove. (The writers, at least, acknowledge that Franken mistreated Tweeden.) The number of women a man didn’t assault does not matter if there are others he did. There are plenty of people the Zodiac Killer did not murder.

Refocusing attention on what Franken did right just distracts from what he did wrong. It also assumes a harasser abusing everyone he comes into contact with is the norm. That paints an inaccurate picture of workplace harassment, and it lowers the bar for behavior by suggesting that a bad man isn’t so bad after all if he’s only bad to some people.

“Sincere appreciation”? “Gratitude”? The letter-writers are thanking Franken for not groping them, instead of insisting that women should be able to take a grope-free atmosphere for granted.

The Franken letter isn’t the first time we’ve seen women speak up not to support women but to stand behind a man accused of harming women. Lena Dunham got hit hard over the weekend after she and a “Girls” co-writer mounted a similar defense of one of their colleagues accused of assault.

Dunham’s defense was worse; she claimed the accusation against her friend was “one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.” But she based that claim on “having worked closely with him for more than a decade.” Dunham, in other words, thought her friend was a good guy, just as Franken’s defenders from “SNL” see him as “a devoted and dedicated family man” and “an honorable public servant.”

The problem is . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

The Retaliatory State: How Trump Is Turning Government Into a Weapon of Revenge

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In New York magazine Jonathan Chait notes an ominous development:

Do you remember the “IRS scandal”? Unlike the conspiracy theories supported by “crazy” Republicans, like birtherism and Sharia law spreading in the U.S., the IRS scandal is one of the conspiracy theories supported by “Establishment” Republicans, like climate-science denial and Benghaaaazi. The premise of the “IRS scandal” held that the agency, supported explicitly or implicitly by the Obama administration, targeted conservative groups for harassment. Years of investigation by Congress and the IRS Inspector General firmly proved the opposite. The IRS, trying to enforce ambiguous rules governing political activity by nonprofit groups, flagged organizations on both the right and left in roughly equal measure.

The intensity of the IRS conspiracy theory petered out, but has never surrendered its place in the right-wing imagination. (Indeed, Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn regurgitated the fantasy again yesterday.) The “IRS Scandal” has some importance beyond its insight into conservative paranoia. It has turned out to prefigure the Republicans’ own blueprint for the use of government as an implement of partisan domination and revenge.

In his essay on the “paranoid style” in American politics, which focused on the ravings of the conservative movement, Richard Hofstadter identified their penchant for reproducing the very techniques they decried. “The enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.” Conservatives simultaneously suspect that Democrats have perverted government as a tool of partisan domination and that this is a proper and normal — or at least inevitable — use of executive power.

Politico reports that the Trump administration is leaning toward appointing Thomas Brunell to the top operational job running the Census. While Brunell “appears to have little experience in federal statistics or at managing a big organization, both characteristics that census-watchers believe are vital for the job,” he does have one point on his résumé that makes him deeply attractive for the post. He is a committed advocate of Republican gerrymandering efforts, and the author of a book titled Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America. The Census is written into the Constitution and serves an essential governing function. Nobody has ever before thought to turn the direction of it over to a figure whose public career is so closely identified with partisan maneuvering.

Trump has openly called for using the Department of Justice and the FBI to prosecute his political opponents. “At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!” he has tweeted. “I am really not involved with the Justice Department. I’d like to let it run itself. But honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats,” he said, adding, “A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me,” he told reporters. Having repeatedly threatened the news media, there is almost no way for CNN not to suspectthe Department of Justice’s anomalously harsh regulation of its parent-company merger is a form of retaliation for its coverage. The threat to CNN doesn’t have to explicit in order to have an effect.

The use of government as a tool of vengeance is not merely a recurring theme of Trump’s government. It is, in at least some cases, an explicitly articulated public philosophy. Stephen Moore, a conservative economic adviser at the Heritage Foundation, praises the Republican tax-cut plan as a deliberate attack on blue America. Moore, who has met with Trump and previously worked for such places as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Club for Growth, is not a marginal kook but instead a deeply influential one. His brazen endorsement of the goal of using the tax code to strike out at the party’s enemies merits close attention.

Moore argues that subjecting income spent on state and local taxes to federal taxation — a change Republicans might be expected to oppose as a form of double taxation — will have the delicious secondary effect of pressuring state government to shrink. “The big blue states either cut their taxes and costs, or the stampede of high-income residents from these states accelerates,” he gloats. “The big losers here are the public employee unions — the mortal enemies of Republicans. This all works out nicely.”

Moore likewise praises the plan for taxing university endowments. Republicans in general, and Moore with special fervency, typically oppose taxes on wealth. But he waxes enthusiastic about this wealth tax. “The first shot against the University Industrial Complex has finally been fired,” he exults …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 12:20 pm

Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude Users by Race

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Full disclosure: I have a Facebook problem of my own. Someone has been sending messages in my name (as if they came from me) to some whom I’ve friended. I have posted about this problem and have received some replies to the effect, “Aha. Now I understand those strange messages.” The interesting thing I discovered is that there is no way to report this problem to Facebook, and I feel sure that is because Facebook doesn’t care: their total focus is on harvesting data from their users and selling it on.

For example, see “We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself,” by Sandy Parakilas, in the NY Times, which begins:

I led Facebook’s efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia’s election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t.

Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you’re in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O.

The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data — except when negative press or regulators are involved. Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place.

For a few years, Facebook’s developer platform hosted a thriving ecosystem of popular social games. Remember the age of Farmville and Candy Crush? The premise was simple: Users agreed to give game developers access to their data in exchange for free use of addictive games.

Unfortunately for the users of these games, there were no protections around the data they were passed through Facebook to outside developers. Once data went to the developer of a game, there was not much Facebook could do about misuse except to call the developer in question and threaten to cut off the developer’s access. As the I.P.O. approached, and the media reported on allegations of misuse of data, I, as manager of the team responsible for protecting users on the developer platform from abuse of their data, was given the task of solving the problem.

In one instance, a developer appeared to be using Facebook data to automatically generate profiles of children, without their consent. When I called the company responsible for the app, it claimed that Facebook’s policies on data use were not being violated, but we had no way to confirm whether that was true. Once data passed from the platform to a developer, Facebook had no view of the data or control over it. In other cases, developers asked for permission to get user data that their apps obviously didn’t need — such as a social game asking for all of your photos and messages. People rarely read permissions request forms carefully, so they often authorize access to sensitive information without realizing it.

At a company that was deeply concerned about protecting its users, this situation would have been met with a robust effort to cut off developers who were making questionable use of data. But when I was at Facebook, the typical reaction I recall looked like this: try to put any negative press coverage to bed as quickly as possible, with no sincere efforts to put safeguards in place or to identify and stop abusive developers. When I proposed a deeper audit of developers’ use of Facebook’s data, one executive asked me, “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?”

The message was clear: The company just wanted negative stories to stop. It didn’t really care how the data was used. . .

Continue reading.

Now Julia Angwin, Ariana Tobin and Madeleine Varner report in ProPublica:

In February, Facebook said it would step up enforcement of its prohibition against discrimination in advertising for housing, employment or credit.

But our tests showed a significant lapse in the company’s monitoring of the rental market.

Last week, ProPublica bought dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook, but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users, such as African Americansmothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair rampsJewsexpats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.

All of these groups are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to publish any advertisement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Every single ad was approved within minutes.

The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved by Facebook sought to exclude potential renters “interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.” It was approved after 22 minutes.

Under its own policies, Facebook should have flagged these ads, and prevented the posting of some of them. Its failure to do so revives questions about whether the company is in compliance with federal fair housing rules, as well as about its ability and commitment to police discriminatory advertising on the world’s largest social network.

Housing, employment and credit are the three areas in which federal law prohibits discriminatory ads. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — the agency responsible for enforcing fair housing laws — told us that it has closed an inquiry into Facebook’s advertising policies, reducing pressure on the company to address the issue. In a 2015 newspaper column, Ben Carson, now HUD secretary, criticized “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality” in housing.

Facebook’s failure to police discriminatory rental ads flies in the face of its promises in February that it would no longer approve ads for housing, employment or credit that targeted racial categories. For advertising aimed at audiences not selected by race, Facebook said it would require housing, employment and credit advertisers to “self-certify” that their ads were compliant with anti-discrimination laws.

Based on Facebook’s announcement, the ads purchased by ProPublica that were aimed at racial categories should have been rejected. The others should have prompted a screen to pop up asking for self-certification. We never encountered a self-certification screen, and none of our ads were rejected by Facebook.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments,” Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook, said in an emailed statement. “The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.” . . .

Continue reading.

I simply do not believe for a second Facebook’s protestations. What is needed is independent oversight and regulation with severe (criminal) penalties for violations. Self-policing never works, which is why organizations always propose it.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 11:39 am

Republicans Are Throwing Away Their Shot at Tax Reform

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David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, reports in the Atlantic:

America badly needs corporate tax reform.

The United States pretends to tax corporations heavily. But those heavy tax rates are perforated by randomly generous rules such that many tax-efficient firms pay nothing at all, or even receive money back from the U.S. Treasury. The result is heavy unfairness between industries and firms, an unfairness that many economists believe systematically distorts investment decisions. U.S. productivity growth has been sluggish since the Great Recession—and had actually turned negative by the beginning of 2016.

At the same time, the corporate share of the federal-tax burden has dwindled over the years and decades. More and more of the cost of government now falls upon the payroll tax, which weighs most heavily on low- and middle-income wage earners. These Americans are suffering stagnating incomes, very probably because of the poor productivity growth of the past half-decade.

Lowering the corporate rate while tightening collection—with a view to raising more revenue in a more rational way—has been a good government cause since the late 1980s. John Kerry campaigned on it during his presidential run, in 2004, as NBC News reported at the time:

“Some may be surprised to hear a Democrat calling for lower corporate tax rates,” Kerry told an audience at Wayne State University [in Michigan]. “The fact is, I don’t care about the old debates. I care about getting the job done and creating jobs here in the United States of America.”

Now, in 2017, the all-Republican federal government at last has a chance to make progress on this goal. And it is throwing that opportunity away.

As I write on November 19, it may seem like the GOP tax plans are carrying all before them. A big tax cut has passed the House. A somewhat different plan passed late Thursday night through the Senate Finance Committee. The president is bellowing on Twitter his readiness to sign almost anything that arrives on his desk.

But what is heading toward him is not the kind of reform that can command broad political support, and thus stand the test of possible electoral defeat in 2018 and 2020. It’s a scandalous expression of upper-class and Sunbelt chauvinism that will melt away within weeks of the next Democratic electoral success. Even if the plan becomes law, as still seems improbable in the face of its terrible poll numbers, what firm would venture a long-term investment based on tax changes so likely unsustainable?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s old rule of thumb for bills before the Senate—“They pass 70–30, or they fail”—no longer applies. Seventy-vote majorities no longer exist in this hyperpartisan era. The Affordable Care Act passed with only 60 votes. But the spirit of the rule lingers. By refusing to hold hearings and forestalling Congressional Budget Office scoring, Republicans have moved fast. But they have not convinced the public mind to recycle an antique but still meaningful phrase. They may win a vote. They have not won the argument. What they are doing will not last, and will therefore not deliver any of the promised benefits. Their strategy is the equivalent of a 1980s-style corporate raid, which will yield a hasty and morally dubious windfall for a few insiders while damaging the longer-term economic health of the larger enterprise.Corporate tax reform is an argument that conservatives and Republicans could and should win. Among the advanced economies, only France—at 34.41 percent—imposes rates even close to the statutory U.S. rate, which including state-level taxes averages 38.91 percent.  Nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, by the same metric, average 24.18 percent; European states, 18.35 percent.

Of course, only the worst-managed or unluckiest American companies actually pay that 38.91 percent. In the 1950s, a third of federal revenues were derived from the corporate income tax. In the mid-1960s, the corporate tax still yielded more revenue than the payroll tax. But since then, revenue collections from the corporate tax have tumbled steeply relative to other tax sources. Today the federal government collects only about 10 percent from the corporate income tax. The payroll tax contributes almost three times as much.

In the 1960s, the ratio of federal collections between individual and corporate income taxes was about 2 to 1. Since the Great Recession and the lapse of the Bush tax cuts, this ratio has approximated 5 to 1.

The paradox of high rates and low yields is explained by the rational lobbying strategy of corporate firms. Business in general  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 11:17 am

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