Later On

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Archive for February 2017

The evolutionary origin of reason and why facts don’t change people’s minds

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Elizabeth Kolbert reviews an interesting book in the New Yorker:

In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten
As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.
“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”
A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.
Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.
The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.
Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.
The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 6:48 pm

When, in heaven’s name, will they learn? This time it’s Tesla.

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Apparently many men were not raised right. Sam Levin reports in the Guardian about Tesla.

A female engineer at Tesla has accused Elon Musk’s car company of ignoring her complaints of “pervasive harassment”, paying her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoting less qualified men over her and retaliating against her for raising concerns.

The allegations of AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at the celebrated electric car manufacturer, paint a picture of a hostile work environment dominated by men where inappropriate sexual behavior is tolerated and women face numerous barriers to advance their careers.

Vandermeyden, 33, shared her story with the Guardian at a time when Silicon Valley is reeling from the explosive allegations of former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. In a viral blogpost, she alleged that management and HR dismissed her complaints about documented sexual harassment and sexism, protected a repeat offender because he was a “high performer” and suggested that women in the company were not as skilled as men.

Offering a rare public account of discrimination from a tech worker who remains employed at her company, Vandermeyden said her dedication to Tesla motivated her to advocate for fair treatment and reforms – despite the serious risks she knows she faces for going public.

“Until somebody stands up, nothing is going to change,” she said in a recent interview, her first comments about a discrimination lawsuit she filed last year. “I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”

Vandermeyden began at Tesla in 2013 and was eventually promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the general assembly department, which consisted mostly of men and where she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over, according to her complaint.

It was common for her to be the only woman in meetings with 40 to 50 men, she said on a recent morning, seated in the living room of her family’s house in San Carlos, the city where Tesla was founded, located across the bay from its current factory in Fremont.

Currently, all chief executive positions are held by men at Tesla, and out of more than 30 vice-presidents, only two are women, she added.

“It’s shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have.”

Vandermeyden said that when complaints arise at Tesla about workplace issues or inequality, the response is often: “‘We’re focused on making cars. We don’t have time to deal with all this other stuff.’”

Tesla, founded in 2003, has gained international recognition for its battery-powered vehicles and “autonomous” driving technology, promoted by Musk, the ambitious entrepreneur who makes headlines for bold pledges about space travel, artificial intelligence, underground tunnels and driverless cars.

But Vandermeyden’s complaint, filed last fall, alleges that there were inadequacies in the quality testing of cars, and that she raised issues about the flaws she observed, which supervisors and male engineers had missed.

Although she came up with a solution, men were granted positions above her, her lawyers wrote. She and other female engineers were denied promotions even though they were “equally or more qualified” than the men, according to the complaint. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 2:53 pm

How rapacious capitalism transformed one Ohio city from the American dream to a nightmare

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This shows the problem with capitalism and should put paid to any idea that the free market will regulate itself for the good of everyone (“consumers can choose what to buy!” “inferior producers will be selected against!” “it’s all good”) is shown the be a jejune fantasy more appropriate to a teenager full of ideas than an adult with real-world experience. (I am not a Libertarian, as you see.)

Laura Miller reviews a book for Slate:

Brian Alexander’s Glass House belongs to a new and still fairly accidental genre: the on-the-ground Trump explainer, a nonfiction book illuminating the desperation driving white small-town Americans, as told by a native son. The vanguard title in this pack is J.D. Vance’s surprise success Hillbilly Elegy, a portrait of the dysfunctional, self-defeating working-class white culture in Appalachia and Rust Belt Ohio, published last spring. Although Vance mostly avoided making political recommendations, he’s a conservative and a regular contributor to National Review and has been knocked, somewhat unfairly, as an unmitigated bootstrapper. Glass House’s subtitle, The 1 Percent Economy and the Shattering of an All-American Town, hints at the book’s difference from its best-selling predecessor. Alexander’s book is less personal, less tortured, a work of journalism far more willing to indict forces larger than the stubborn, delusional pride of the white working class. This book hunts bigger game.

Alexander grew up in Lancaster, Ohio, a town celebrated in a 1947 Forbesarticle as the quintessential American town, the “epitome and apogee,” as Alexander puts it, “of the American free enterprise system.” The magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief B.C. Forbes (father of Malcolm) held up Lancaster as a shining paragon of what the nation could achieve without the meddling of “left wingers,” although his belief that union activity there had been subdued was incorrect. Lancaster had a pretty, historic downtown (Civil War generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Thomas Ewing were born there), and a thriving civic culture fostered by the glassmaking industry, in particular a glassware company called Anchor Hocking. In Glass House, Alexander begins by tracing the history of a young couple who moved to Lancaster two years after the Forbes story ran. The young man took a sales job at Anchor then moved up in the company, while his wife volunteered to raise funds for the hospital and campaigned for levies to build new public schools. Back then, Lancaster parents felt no qualms about letting their kids run around on their own recognizance. Anchor Hocking vice presidents drank alongside factory workers in Old Bill Bailey’s tavern. People worked at Anchor Hocking for 40 years and retired on sound pensions. Lancaster, Alexander writes, “really was about as close to the clichéd image of the all-American town as you could get, outside of a Hollywood movie set.”

It is also, as a local saying has it, “the whitest town in America.” The Ku Klux Klan, during its resurgence in the 1920s, had a thriving presence there, although with hardly any blacks to terrorize, it had to content itself with harassing Catholics. This also meant that when Lancaster—like so many Middle American small towns—began to collapse economically in the late 20th century, its citizens didn’t have a racial scapegoat at hand. Today, Anchor Hocking is a ghost of its former self, although it’s still hobbling along. Gaunt, tattooed drug addicts roam Lancaster’s streets in pajama pants. Old-timers deeply wedded to the idea that Lancaster is a town specially endowed with the essence of American decency tell themselves that the riff-raff consists of “outsiders” drawn by the (fictional) bounty of Lancaster’s social services. The cops and aimless young people Alexander profiles in depth in Glass House can testify otherwise. The head of Lancaster’s Major Crimes Unit begins to cry while telling Alexander about fending off the pleas of distraught families while arresting people he played high-school football with.

Glass House reads like an odd—and oddly satisfying—fusion of George Packer’s The Unwinding and one of Michael Lewis’ real-life financial thrillers. Alexander pings back and forth between portraits of despairing and bewildered Lancastrians and the labyrinthine corporate history of Anchor Hocking. Unlike many other heartland industries, glass manufacturing, by virtue of the fragility and weight of its product, has some built-in resistance to outsourcing and imports. Anchor itself has remained a viable economic enterprise, at least in theory, throughout its history. But beginning in the 1980s, the company fell victim to a near-fatal combination of bad management and private-equity financiers emboldened by the new Reagan administration’s embrace of unfettered free-market capitalism. First, the company became the target of “greenmail” by corporate raider Carl Icahn. (Greenmailers stealthily buy up stock in sleepy companies, then threaten to make trouble unless they are bought out at a premium.) Icahn’s gambit inspired an Anchor executive to capture a division of the company in a leveraged buyout and relocate it to Tampa, forcing many of its employees to choose between their jobs and their community.

What followed was a long, complicated, and sickening ballet of financial sleight-of-hand in which one investment firm after another bought Anchor with borrowed money then loaded the debt back onto the company, pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy (and, on one occasion, over the brink). Aiming to quickly flip the company at a profit, Anchor’s various owners forced cost-cutting measures and concessions from the union. They neglected vital renovations and repairs to the manufacturing plant, a dangerous omission when it comes to machines designed to work with molten glass. Anchor’s facilities became increasingly out-of-date and incapable of making items it had once profitably produced. Pensions were replaced with 401(k)s, and eventually employer contributions to those accounts dwindled to nothing. Employees’ portion of their health insurance premiums ballooned to the point that many could no longer afford to make them. (One of Alexander’s sources estimates that some workers would have seen their take-home pay reduced to $10,000 per year if they bought into the health plan.)

Private-equity vampires didn’t just suck all the value out of Anchor to line their own pockets. They also casually . . .

Continue reading.

And read as well how automakers knew the Takata airbags were dangerous, but hid the fact. And think back (for my older readers) to Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed and how safety had to be legislated in the the automobile, piece by piece, because unless forced by law, automakers would not do a single damn thing. It added to the cost (and thus cut those dollars directly out of profits), it also wasn’t popular: people didn’t actually want it, particularly because automakers charged more (to recover the grearer costs). The government steps in, sets minimal safety stands to protect the public and promote the general welfare, automakers reluctantly do it (the president of General Motors actually in testimony to a Congressional committee said that collapsible steering wheel was impossible because it would have to work for a frail 90-lb woman and also for a 300-lb linebacker. Impossible. The committee was unimpressed, the legislation passed, and one year later GM had a collapsible steering wheel.

As individuals, the residents of Lancaster lacked the power to fight the corporate owners and managers. But that’s one reason we have a government: to level the playing field and fight on behalf of the public against the power of the corporation. And you can see what a problem it is when the corporations control the power that is supposed to regulate them. And it gets worse, as we’ve seen. I do not think the Trump administration is a step in the right direction; rather it is the best indication so far of where we’re headed. “Papers, please.”

And a new authoritarian government will have powers Stalin could never have dreamed of: it will have, for example, your order history from Amazon, your viewing history from Netflix, and all your Facebook data (which is already being sold: the authoritarian government can just buy it, effectively outsourcing all the spying, prying, and investigation of individuals to build a dossier on each. It has more than ever. From Wired:

Then, the researchers created an algorithm and fed it with every respondent’s personality scores, as well as their “Likes,” to which subjects voluntarily gave researchers access. The researchers only included “Likes” that respondents shared with at least 20 other respondents. That enabled the model to connect certain “Likes” to certain personality traits. If, for instance, several people who liked Snooki on Facebook also scored high in the extroverted category, the system would learn that Snooki lovers are more outgoing. The more “Likes” the system saw, the better its judgment became.

In the end, the researchers found that with information on just ten Facebook “Likes,” the algorithm was more accurate than the average person’s colleague. With 150 “Likes,” it could outsmart people’s families, and with 300 “Likes,” it could best a person’s spouse.

What’s more . . .

So fairly soon, I imagine, “Papers, please” will be no longer needed: it’ll all be on-line and available on the smartphones government enforcement personnel carry. And most adults now seem to carry a smartphone: instant data collection, network mapping (known associates, etc.), location, and so on.

It’s going to be yuge!

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 2:17 pm

Inside the Knotty World of ‘Anyon’s, A New Kind of Quantum Particle

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Frank Wilczek writes in Quanta:


Prior to the emergence of quantum mechanics, fundamental physics was marked by a peculiar dualism. On the one hand, we had electric and magnetic fields, governed by Maxwell’s equations. The fields filled all of space and were continuous. On the other hand, we had atoms, governed by Newtonian mechanics. The atoms were spatially limited — indeed, quite small — discrete objects. At the heart of this dualism was the contrast of light and substance, a theme that has fascinated not only scientists but artists and mystics for many centuries.

One of the glories of quantum theory is that it has replaced that dualistic view of matter with a unified one. We learned to make fields from photons, and atoms from electrons (together with other elementary particles). Both photons and electrons are described using the same mathematical structure. They are particles, in the sense that they come in discrete units with definite, reproducible properties. But the new quantum-mechanical sort of “particle” cannot be associated with a definite location in space. Instead, the possible results of measuring its position are given by a probability distribution. And that distribution is given as the square of a space-filling field, its so-called wave function.

Conceptually, quantum particles differ so significantly from their classical ancestors that a different name seems in order. Just as the quantum “qubit” was named by analogy to the classical “bit” of information, I will use the term “quarticle” (pronounced kwort-icle) for a quantum particle. This emphasis on the particle aspect (as opposed to “wavicle”) is appropriate, because in practice quantum physicists usually analyze quantum behavior by visualizing the behavior of particles, and then refining — and, if necessary, correcting — their picture until it works for quarticles.


The quantum unification of light and substance, while satisfying, is limited in scope. For when we go beyond single quarticles to consider the behavior of collections of identical quarticles, a new dualism appears. Indeed, the world of quantum particles divides into two great, mutually exclusive kingdoms. There is the kingdom of bosons, named after Satyendra Bose, and the kingdom of fermions, named after Enrico Fermi. Every species of quarticle is either a boson or fermion.

Interactions among bosons are very different from those of fermions. We call this effect “quantum statistics.” For purposes of orientation, a simple introduction may be in order.

Bosons are conformists. They like to behave in the same way. (More technically: Identical bosons have enhanced probability to occupy the same quantum state.) Photons belong to the kingdom of bosons. A laser beam is the epitome of boson-ness. It consists of many photons of the same wavelength (that is, color) moving in the same direction, the result of “stimulated emission” of photons in an imitative cascade.

Fermions, by contrast, are individualists. They absolutely refuse to occupy the same quantum state, a fact known as the Pauli exclusion principle. Electrons belong to the kingdom of fermions, and this is a key reason why the periodic table exists. Electrons, being negatively charged, are strongly attracted to positively charged atomic nuclei, but they prevent one another from surrounding the nucleus in a simple, efficient way. Instead they build up complex configurations that can support interesting chemistry.

Supersymmetry is a theoretical speculation that — if true — would reconcile the two kingdoms. According to supersymmetry, every elementary quarticle has a mate in the opposite kingdom, its superpartner. The superpartner of a boson is a fermion, and vice versa. Superpartners share the same electric charge and several other properties, but differ in mass and spin.

Supersymmetry is an attractive, logical extension of known physics, and it can be implemented with elegant mathematics. Many physicists, including me, feel that it deserves to be true.

But the last word, naturally, goes to nature. While there is compelling circumstantial evidence for supersymmetry, as yet there is no direct proof. For that, we need to find some superpartners. Searching for superpartners of known particles is a major preoccupation of experimentalists working at the Large Hadron Collider. Sadly, the results so far are negative. Yet there is still considerable potential for discovery, as the machine comes to operate at higher energy and more collisions get analyzed.


Clearly, quantum statistics lies at the foundation of our understanding of nature. Also, as we’ve seen, it raises a profound question about the unity of matter. Addressing that question suggests new possibilities for discovery.

Such an important concept deserves a worthy grounding. What is quantum statistics, at bottom?

The modern answer to that question is deep, beautiful and surprisingly recent. It emerged in the late 1970s, . . .

Continue reading.

Good ending. Fascinating column. I get the feeling that the universe is as it is because that is the way it must be if it consists of exploiting every possible quantum niche, as it were. Everything must happen the way it does because all of quantum reality’s possibilities are being utilized (at the quantum level) and that ripples up into our visible world of everyday life—that is, maybe there is indeed no free will, but our lives are spent in filling out our actual possibilities, given everything (including who we are).

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Science

Jeff Sessions dismisses DOJ reports on police abuse without bothering to read them

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Apparently Jeff Sessions is not interested in doing his job.

Radley Balko in the Washington Post:

In a briefing with reporters yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’s still deciding whether or not to implement reforms for the Chicago Police Department. The reforms, suggested by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, were part of a blistering report on the city’s police agency that was published at the tail end of President Obama’s second term. This section from the Reuters write-up of the briefingjumped out at me:

Sessions said he had seen summaries of both the Chicago report and the report that the Obama Justice Department completed on police in Ferguson.

“Some of it was pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based,” Sessions said.

Of course, the summary for any study will be anecdotal, and not particularly heavy on data. That’s the whole point of a summary. I’m not entirely sure what Sessions means by “scientifically-based.” But the DOJ’s Ferguson study is based on a wealth of data, much of supplied by the legal aid group ArchCity Defenders and the advocacy group Better Together. And much of the data from those organizations comes from the municipalities in St. Louis County themselves — data from police agencies, city budgets, and municipal courts. If Sessions couldn’t find data in the Ferguson study, it’s because he didn’t look for it.

And as it turns out, he really didn’t look for it.

Asked by The Huffington Post whether he had read the Civil Rights Division’s investigative reports on the police departments in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, Sessions conceded he had not. But, he said, he didn’t think they were necessarily reliable.

“I have not read those reports, frankly.”

Just to be clear, the U.S. attorney general is currently deciding whether to continue to enforce civil rights reforms suggested by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ in Chicago and Ferguson — but he’s apparently pondering that decision without having read the reports supporting those reforms. He only read the summaries. Not surprisingly, he found that the summaries lack data. As summaries tend to do.

To be fair, the DOJ’s report on Chicago, flabbergasting as it was, was largely anecdotal. There’s a good reason for that. As the report itself notes, the Chicago Police Department is notoriously bad at collecting data. They city couldn’t even tell investigators how many people its police officers had shot. The investigators couldn’t cite reliable data on police complaints, because they found ample evidence that people who try to file complaints are subject to threats and intimidation, and that the complaints themselves are poorly investigated and poorly documented. In other words, the report was largely anecdotal because anecdotes were all investigators had. But the very lack of reliable data is in itself troubling, and indicative of a problem. From the report: . . .

Continue reading.

The US is in for some bad times.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 12:33 pm

President Trump launches what amounts to a direct attack on US national security

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President Trump is truly a real and present danger to national security. The oath taken by uniformed service members includes stating that the individual “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and President Trump is looking increasingly like one of the domestic enemies, even apart from his continued violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (which the GOP Congress studiously ignores).

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Republican blogger for the Washington Post, writes:

President Trump may have meant it, or he may have been making an excuse for the mindbogglingly ineptitude in failing to fill virtually any sub-Cabinet jobs. In either event, he declared in an interview with Fox News that he won’t fill many of the political appointment slots he has at his disposal. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. “In government, we have too many people.”

This suggests a stunning level of ignorance and political naivete about how government operates. “Extremely dumb and counterproductive,” is how Trump critic and former State Department official Eliot Cohen sees it. “Despite what many conservatives think, the State Department is understaffed and underfunded as is. We need more and better diplomats around the world.  This is the product of a kind of ignorant malice that will only damage our country’s ability to shape the world and get along in it.” He continued, “Moreover, by failing to fill State Department slots, the administration would be sending the world a message that it does not give a damn about diplomacy — which will be read as a sign either of incompetence or belligerence, or both.”

When combined with reported budget cuts, the result can be devastating. “By slashing the State Department budget and leaving key jobs unfilled, President Trump is proactively hollowing out America’s national security infrastructure,” said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. “Senior officials in the State and Defense Departments are on the front lines of pushing back against China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. They lead and wage the struggle every day. President Trump is taking these players off the field. It is a huge boon for America’s rivals.”

The savings Trump might obtain are tiny compared to the damage he might do. “It is hard to saying how slashing the relatively minuscule State Department operating budget and foreign assistance can help protect either the nation or the [budget],” said former ambassador Eric Edelman. “It can only contribute, down the road, to greater need to rely on the military instrument of national power rather than seeking to advance the national interest and avoid conflict through diplomacy. On the other hand, I can imagine that if you want to force poor Secretary Tillerson into spending all his time and energy on keeping the lights on in American embassies abroad rather than on the policy fights in Washington, this is a grand strategy.”

Conservatives who want their policies advanced will be horrified to hear that Trump is not planning on filling the ranks of political appointees but rather is going to let “acting” officials, in many cases holdovers from the Obama administration or permanent civil service employees, staff those jobs. Take the Justice Department. For years conservative lawyers (some of whom compiled the list of potential Supreme Court justices for Trump) railed about the politicization of the Justice Department from section heads down to staff lawyers. Trump has not yet nominated people for more than two dozen open positions at Justice, including the heads of the civil rights division and the national security division. He is trusting existing staff, many of whom came into government under the Obama administration, to man these positions.

“Leaving jobs vacant will harm the White House’s agenda and do little to reduce the budget deficit,” said John Yoo, who worked in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 11:23 am

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Opposes Appointment of Free Speech/Civil Rights Violator to be Next D.C. Police Chief

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The PCJF notes in subheads:

Newsham Commanded Infamous Pershing Park Mass False Arrest of Hundreds of Demonstrators, Reporters, Legal Observers, Tourists and Passers-by and Willfully Repeated Violations of the Law Just Last Month on Inauguration Day

The article:

Donald Trump in the White House. Protestors in the streets of the nation’s capital.  A notorious violator of free speech rights as the Chief of Police?

When Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Peter Newsham as her pick to be chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund immediately spoke out in opposition, providing one of the few voices standing up against this wrong and dangerous choice.  Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, was quoted in The Washington Post calling Newsham, “a serial mass violator of civil rights” who is “not fit to be chief of police.”

As a result of hard fought legal and community efforts, there have been great strides in the police’s response to mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C. over the past decade. But as quickly as Newsham assumed the interim chief position we’ve witnessed the clock turning back, starting with inauguration day’s dragnet arrests of hundreds and mass indiscriminate use of force.

Please read the article below from Alternet. As Newsham’s confirmation process moves forward, including D.C. Council hearings, we will update you on actions you can take to join in opposition and stand up for First Amendment rights. (Please be sure you are signed up for PCJF alerts.)

The Alternet article by Steven Rosenfeld begins:

Protesters Beware: D.C. Mayor Appoints New Police Chief With Long Record of Mass Arrests and Depriving Rights

Peter Newsham defends past mass arrests that cost city millions in legal judgments.

At a time when the right to protest in the nation’s capital has never been more important, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has appointed an abuser of First Amendment freedoms, Peter Newsham, as the city’s new police chief.

From the Pershing Park mass arrests of 2002 to dragnet arrests at Donald Trump’s inauguration, Newsham has shown a recurring pattern of violating protesters’ civil rights, said one of the lawyers who sued the city after the 2002 protests and won a multi-million-dollar judgement for protesters and policing practice reforms.

“As people are taking to the streets in the Trump era to protest throughout the United States, and in particular here in the nation’s capital, it is critical that fundamental First Amendment rights be afforded protection,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), which also defended those arrested in New York’s Occupy protests.

But the stakes in Washington are arguably bigger than in other cities, as this is where the White House, Congress and top federal agencies are seated. Newsham’s appointment sends “a chilling message to all those who are coming out to stand in defense of targeted communities and against bigotry,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.

His use of mass arrests is a matter of public record. PCJF litigated the Pershing Park case, which resulted in more than $10 million in damages for nearly 400 persons and major changes in the city’s laws governing police handling of demonstrators ― laws Newsham apparently violated just one month ago.

After years of litigation, in which PCJF deposed Newsham under oath, federal courts found Newsham could be held liable for the mass violations of constitutional rights and dismissed his justifications as “nothing short of ludicrous.” In that case, the court found his mass arrest had no lawful basis and denied his request for qualified immunity, stating “[n]o reasonable officer in Newsham’s position could have believed that probable cause existed to order the sudden arrest of every individual in Pershing Park.” Demonstrators were illegally arrested and held for 24 hours or more, and hogtied in stress-and-duress positions. The D.C. Circuit described in ample detail “just how indefensible Newsham’s actions were.”

That litigation resulted in the D.C. City Council’s enactment of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act, which guides police responses to demonstrations, including when property is damaged or violence occurs, to ensure that protesters are not wrongfully arrested. Yet Newsham appears to have violated this standard at Trump’s inauguration.

At the press announcement of his appointment, Newsham again dismissed his Pershing Park mass arrests, saying, “My decision at the time was a decision that I thought was in the best interest of the District of Columbia and of public safety… The Metropolitan Police Department learned a great deal from that experience that we have taken to today, and I think it was exhibited during the inauguration.”

Verheyden-Hilliard said nothing could be further from the truth.

“To this day Newsham refuses to acknowledge his extreme illegal misconduct in violating the civil rights of hundreds of people, despite the court rulings against him, making it clear that he is unwilling or incapable of upholding the constitution,” she said. “At the protests at Donald Trump’s inauguration just one month ago he plainly acted in willful violation of the law and engaged in yet another illegal mass dragnet arrest, including falsely arresting journalists and lawful protesters rather than those committing illegal acts, as well as deploying indiscriminate and brutal use of chemical munitions against civilians. Peter Newsham is unfit to be chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.” . . .

Continue reading.

I believe that authoritarians are acting now on the belief that with Trump as president they can do what they want, regardless of the law.


Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 11:04 am

“Papers, please”: The familiar sign of an authoritarian government makes its US appearance

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Garrett Epps, who teaches constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore, reports in the Atlantic:

American citizens had their introduction to the Trump-era immigration machine Wednesday, when Customs and Border Protection agents met an airliner that had just landed at New York’s JFK airport after a flight from San Francisco. According to passenger accounts, a flight attendant announced that all passengers would have to show their “documents” as they deplaned, and they did. The reason for the search, Homeland Security officials said, was to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a search for a specific immigrant who had received a deportation order after multiple criminal convictions. The target was not on the flight.

After days of research, I can find no legal authority for ICE or CBP to require passengers to show identification  on an entirely domestic fight. The ICE authorizing statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1357, provides that agents can conduct warrantless searches of “any person seeking admission to the United States”—if, that is, the officer has “reasonable cause to suspect” that the individual searched may be deportable. CBP’s statute, 19 U.S.C. § 1467, grants search authority “whenever a vessel from a foreign port or place or from a port or place in any Territory or possession of the United States arrives at a port or place in the United States.” CBP regulations, set out at 19 C.F.R. § 162.6, allow agents to search “persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof.”

I asked two experts whether I had missed some general exception to the Fourth Amendment for passengers on a domestic flight. After all, passengers on flights entering the U.S. from other countries can expect to be asked for ID, and even searched. Barry Friedman, the Jacob D. Fuchsberg professor of law and affiliated professor of politics at New York University, is the author of Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, a new book-length study of intrusive police investigation and search practices. “Is this remotely constitutional?” he asked. “I think it isn’t. We all know generally the government can’t come up and demand to see identification.” Officers need to have statutory authority to search and reasonable suspicion that the person to be searched has violated the law, he said. Andre Segura, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told me that “I’m not aware of any aviation exception” for domestic passengers.

An ID check is a “search” under the law. Passengers on the JFK flight were not “seeking admission”—the flight originated in the U.S. CBP officials told the public after the fact that they were looking for a specific individual believed to be on board. A search for a specific individual cannot include every person on a plane, regardless of sex, race, and age. That is a general paper check of the kind familiar to anyone who has traveled in an authoritarian country. As Segura told me, “We do not live in a ‘show me your papers’ society.”

I asked a CBP spokesperson what legal authority the agency could show for the search. In response, the spokesperson said:

In this situation, CBP was assisting ICE in locating an individual possibly aboard the flight that was ordered removed from the United States pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. To assist ICE, CBP requested consensual assistance from passengers aboard the flight to determine whether the removable individual in question was in fact aboard the flight. In the course of seeking this assistance, CBP did not compel any of these domestic passengers to show identification. With much-appreciated cooperation from these passengers, CBP was able to resolve the issue with minimal delay to the traveling public.

It’s quite legal for law enforcement to ask for “voluntary” cooperation. Anyone who follows criminal-procedure cases, however, knows that “voluntary” in legalese does not mean what ordinary people think it means. Supreme Court caselaw makes clear that officers may block an exit and ask for ID or permission to search. They aren’t required to tell the individual stopped that he or she may refuse, and they have every incentive to act as if refusal may result in arrest. The Supreme Court held in 1984 that “while most citizens will respond to a police request, the fact that people do so, and do so without being told they are free not to respond, hardly eliminates the consensual nature of the response.” Passengers deplaning after a long flight might reasonably fear they will be “detained” if they anger the law enforcement figure blocking their exit. That officer is under no obligation to tell them they can refuse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 10:44 am

As Trump Said in the Campaign, Leave Pot to the States

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Ethan Nadelman, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, writes in the NY Times:

When Donald Trump was running for president, he had three things to say about marijuana policy: He was “in favor of medical marijuana 100 percent,” he was skeptical of legalizing it more broadly, and marijuana policy should basically be left to the states.

Last Thursday White House spokesman Sean Spicer drew a clear distinction between medical and recreational marijuana. Medical use, he stressed, was not a concern, both because “the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them” — and because the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, enacted by Congress in 2014, prohibits the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana in those states that legalized it.

Recreational marijuana, by contrast, was “a very, very different subject” and hence “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws could be anticipated.

In pulling back from Mr. Trump’s assurance during the campaign that states should be left to decide their own marijuana policies, Mr. Spicer made clear that a battle is coming over marijuana policy. It will be a fight that pits a Justice Department headed by a fervent prohibitionist, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, against the eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — in which voters have approved ballot measures to legally regulate marijuana, as well as other states likely to legalize marijuana in the near future.

There’s probably not much the Trump administration can do to reverse public support for legalizing marijuana. A Quinnipiac poll last Thursday found voters in the United States favored legalization by 59 percent to 36 percent, with only Republicans and older voters opposed. An impressive 71 percent, including majorities of Republicans and older voters, think the federal government should not interfere in states that have legalized marijuana. Gallup and other polls report similar findings, including strong majority support for legalizing among Republican millennials.

What Mr. Sessions’ Justice Department can do, however, is cast a chill over the rapidly growing legal and regulated marijuana industry by targeting key players with raids, seizures of property and prosecutions in federal court, and by challenging the ability of state authorities to regulate the industry. That would be shameful given the demonstrable benefits of legal regulation: tens of thousands of taxpaying jobs; hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state tax revenue; strict oversight of cultivation, product production and distribution; savings in law enforcement costs; and far fewer young people, disproportionately African-American and Latino, saddled with criminal records. Donald Trump the businessman should get this but Jeff Sessions, the reefer madness ideologue, doesn’t care.

Governors, attorneys general and legislators in the legal marijuana states (including many who initially opposed legalization) are preparing to resist federal interference in this area as in others. That is because they can see that legally regulating marijuana better advances the public safety and health objectives of state — and federal — drug policy than does persisting with ineffective prohibitionist policies.

Mr. Spicer’s comments made clear what Congress most needs to do. When it re-approved the Rohrabacher-Farr medical marijuana amendment in 2015, by a vote of 242 to 186, it also narrowly failed to approve, by 206 to 222, a McClintock-Polis marijuana amendment that would have prohibited the Justice Department from going after recreational marijuana in the states that had legalized it. That same amendment would almost certainly pass today given both the doubling in the number of legal marijuana states this past Election Day as well as changes in the composition of the House. It should be a top priority of the newly created, bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which includes the second-longest serving member of Congress, the Republican Don Young from Alaska.

The federal government, even during the Obama administration, has never been a fount of evidence-based marijuana policy. Mr. Spicer, with his comments linking marijuana legalization to the opioid addiction crisis, carelessly extended that tradition by getting the link exactly backward. . .

Continue reading.

Nadelman concludes:

. . .The best we can hope for right now is a presidential tweet restating what he said during his campaign: “In terms of marijuana legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 10:20 am

Baked mustard chicken

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I made this recipe last night and it was extremely tasty. I made a half-recipe (one chicken, not two) and it was reasonably easy.

I spatchcocked the chicken, which makes it easy to halve, and then to cut each half into a leg piece (drumstick and thigh) and the breast piece (with wing) is simply. I take the spine (removed in spatchcocking the chicken), wing tips, and neck (included when you buy a whole chicken) and simmered those in a quart of water to which I added salt, a dozen peppercorns, and the juice of two lemons. After simmering for an hour or so, I strain the resulting stock, which makes a very pleasant afternoon treat.

Some changes to the recipe, based on experience—the amounts shown are for the full (2-chicken) recipe; cut in half for 1 chicken

  • 1 cup Dijon mustard, not 3/4 cup – and be sure you dry the chicken well after rinsing, or the mustard mixture won’t stick
  • 4 cloves garlic, not 1, and after mincing it I put it and a good pinch of salt into my mortar & pestle and smashed it to a pulp
  • Panko bread crumbs are what I used

That mortar & pestle at the link is the first I’ve found that actually works well. I have the 5.5″ model; Williams-Sonoma sells the same thing in a 7″ model.

I lined the baking sheet with parchment paper, which worked well. I use flat pre-cut sheets rather than from a roll (because parchment paper from a roll doesn’t lie flat very well)

I download recipes into Paprika Recipe Manager so I can edit them (as in the changes above), and I added a note at the beginning of the instructions: “DON’T forget paprika and butter” (because after I had put the chicken into the oven I realized I had forgotten the last step, and the butter in particular makes a difference—no harm done: it had been in the oven only about 5 minutes when I remembered, took it out, and did that final step).

Two hours worked, but I think next time I’ll try 1.5 hours and see how that goes. Even with two hours cooking, the chicken was quite moist (and incredibly tender), probably because of the crust.

We’ll be having this again.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 10:11 am

Omega S10005, Dead Sea, the 37G, and Cade

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SOTD 2017-02-28

This shave is in solidarity with an airman stationed in Saudi Arabia who just is getting  Merkur 37C and was wondering whether it would work as a daily razor. It depends on on various things, of course—beard, skin, prep, blade, and technique—but I could easily use my own 37G daily. So I brought it out to shave a one-day stubble this morning.

The Dead Sea is geographically close to Saudi Arabia (and it’s a very good shaving soap), so that’s what I picked, and the Omega synthetic is, for me, an excellent brush: still soft, but a different feel from the Plissoft/angelhair synthetics. The Dead Sea shaving soap has a fragrance of Lemon, Rosemary, Cannabis, Saffron, and Sandalwood—quite pleasant—and these ingredients:

Aqua(Water/Eau), Stearic Acid, Cocos Nucifera(Coconut) Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Sodium Hydroxide, Myristic Acid, Fragrance(Parfum), Lanolin, Maris Sal(Dead Sea Salt), Aloe Barbadensis(Aloe Vera) Extract

It makes quite a good lather if you are careful with the water: with this soap, it doesn’t take much.

Three passes with the 37G left my face BBS and without a nick. The reason I have a 37G is that I loved my 37C so much that I decided to get the razor in gold. The Merkur slant seems to suit many, which is probably why Merkur has made it for decades. Now, of course, there are clones that offer the same feel and performance: Stirling (when in stock), The Holy Black’s SR-71 slant, and the German 37 from Italian Barber (which has the additional advantage of being a three-piece design—the others all are two-piece razors, with handle affixed to the baseplate—so you can swap handles and even buy the head by itself ($12)).

A few sprays of l’Occitane Cade into the palm of my hand and then applied to my face, and I’m ready for the day. Tonight is President Trump’s first State of the Union address to Congress, which should be interesting. (It’s also worthy of note that the President is constitutionally required to report to Congress, which indicates that the founders thought Congress was more or less in charge, and certainly Congress controls the purse-strings. When President Trump says that he will spend billions more on the military or billions to build a border wall, those are aspirational statements: he cannot spend any money until Congress authorizes it.)

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2017 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

Mexico City: Doomed

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27 February 2017 at 8:16 pm

When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship

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Victor Lodato has a wonderful essay in the NY Times:

“Is this your grandson?” people sometimes ask Austin when she’s out with me.

I love watching her vanity prick up, the way she serenely tilts her small white head and refurbishes her Southern accent to correct them. “No, honey. He’s my friend.”

At this point, folks usually smile tightly and turn away, perhaps worried there is more than friendship going on between the old lady and the younger man seated at the bar or strolling through the supermarket, giggling like teenagers.

Why we’re giggling, I couldn’t tell you. Often our mirth seems fueled by some deep-celled delight at being together. Friendship, like its flashier cousin, love, can be wildly chemical and, like love, can happen in an instant.

When I met Austin, I was in my early 40s and not looking for a friend. I had come alone to this small Oregon town to finish a book. So when a bony, blue-eyed stranger knocked on my door, introducing herself as the lady from across the way and wondering if I might like to come over and see her garden — maybe have a gin and tonic — I politely declined.

Watching her walk away, though, in her velvet slip-ons and wrinkled blouse, I felt a strange pang, a slow pin of sadness that I suppose could best be described as loneliness. Suddenly I was dashing into the dirt road to say that I was sorry, that she had caught me in the middle of work, but that, yes, I would enjoy seeing her garden.

“Not the gin and tonic?” she said.

“Sure, that too,” I answered, blushing. And before I could suggest a visit the next week, she said: “So I’ll see you in a few hours, then. Shall we say 4:30?”

I had to admire her sense of time. Next week is for someone who can afford to put things off. Austin, in her 80s, surely felt no such luxury.

“I liked your face,” she admitted later, telling me she had spotted me at the mailbox.

As she poured the gin, I told her I had seen her at the mailbox, as well, and liked her face, too.

“I wish I had better eyebrows,” she said. “They used to be fabulous.”

Her garden was astounding, like something dreamed rather than planted, a mad-hatter gothic in which a lawless grace prevailed.

At dusk, the deer arrived, nibbling the crab apple blossoms. We had been talking for hours, slightly tipsy, and then we were in the kitchen cooking dinner. A retired psychologist, Austin had traveled extensively, spoke terrible Spanish and worse French, and was a painter now. She had had two husbands, the second of whom died in this house, in a small bed in the living room.

“That’s what I’ll do,” Austin told me. “This room gets the best light.”

We turned to the windows, but the light was already gone. That we could be quiet together so soon, and without strain, felt auspicious.

“So you’ve run away from home?” she said at one point.

From the beginning, there was something about our interaction that reminded me of friendships from childhood, in which no question was off limits. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Daily life

Leaked DHS Report Contradicts White House Claims on Travel Ban

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It is becoming increasingly clear that we simply cannot trust the White House. This is a major problem, to say the least. (One recent example: “White House planted fake story to smear Politico reporter who wrote about leaks.”) So we now know that we cannot trust the White House: Trump’s problems with telling the truth has infected the whole administration.

Nora Ellingsen gives another example in Lawfare:

Last week, CNN reported that the Trump Administration, in the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the administration’s immigration order, asked the Department of Homeland Security for assistance in justifying the travel ban before the courts on security grounds. More specifically, the White House asked the Department to draft an intelligence assessment that, as reported in the press, was supposed to unequivocally show that immigrants from the seven countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—posed a terrorism threat to the United States. Not surprisingly, the request immediately raised concerns over the politicization of intelligence by an administration that seems more focused on drafting an intelligence report to fit its preferred policies, rather than devising policies responsive to the intelligence of the day.

However, when the Department produced its draft report, later leaked to the Associated Press, the White House wasn’t pleased with the results—and for good reason. The assessment does not support the administration’s position that individuals from the affected countries disproportionately threaten the United States. The Wall Street Journal quotes at least one White House official as expressing dissatisfaction: “The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for.”

Relying on unclassified and publicly available information, the three-page assessment concluded that citizens of the seven affected countries are rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism plots. Indeed, the conclusions are similar to ones I drew earlier this month when I wrote about the conclusions we can draw from FBI international terrorism arrests. Like the DHS analysts, I also relied on the publically available Justice Department press releases, and this data only support one broad conclusion: foreign-born individuals from the affected countries are not a particular terrorism threat to the United States.

But in the next two pages, the DHS assessment takes the analysis several steps further than I went. First, the report found that country of citizenship, more generally, is not a reliable indicator of terrorist activity. By DHS’s count, foreign-born terrorism subjects in the United States originated from 26 different countries, and no country accounted for more than 13.5 percent of foreign-born suspects. In other words—and these are my words, not those of DHS—the travel ban will not be effective not, or not only, because Trump chose the wrong countries, but because trying to single out any country or countries for a travel ban is inherently a misfire. It is trying to fight terrorism by singling out a factor that doesn’t, in fact, offer a significant correlation with terrorist attacks—and that makes very little sense.

In addition, the assessment challenges the administration’s claim that the affected countries have a history of “exporting terrorism” to the United States. In fact, these countries aren’t actually exporting very many people at all. As CNN reported, the seven countries in question were originally removed from the visa waiver program under the Obama administration, making immigrating to the United States a less accessible option for their citizens. As the DHS assessment lays out, individuals from these countries don’t move to the United States in large numbers; each of the seven countries accounts for a small percentage of the US visas granted in their region (the Middle East, North Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa). Each country accounts for less than three percent of its region’s total U.S. visas granted, with the exception of Iran, which clocks in at seven percent. Notably, the assessment reviewed only publically available data on how many U.S. visas were actually granted to residents of the affected countries prior to the ban, perhaps highlighting the need to actually utilize State Department databases before drafting the next Executive Order.

Finally, the assessment draws an important distinction between the countries on the list that face a significant terrorism threat that is reasonably contained within their borders and those who struggle with terrorist groups that also target the United States. Of those seven countries, the assessment indicates that most aren’t harboring terrorist groups actively targeting the United States. According to the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, groups in Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan are regionally focused; only organizations based in Iraq, Syria and Yemen currently pose a threat of attacks in the United States.

The report could actually have gone a step further and pointed out that, according to the Justice Department’s press releases, . . .

Continue reading.

Just as the Trump administration gave government economists the results Trump wanted the analysis produce, ordering the economists to make their analysis arrive at those figures, so too they want intelligence reports fixed to deliver pre-determined findings.

This sort of dishonesty is destructive and grounds (IMO) for removal from office: Trump is a domestic threat.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 7:06 pm

For those who have read Robert Caro’s great book “The Power Broker”

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The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a big book, but absolutely enthralling to some (e.g., me, The Eldest). It’s worth getting in a hardbound edition because of its size, but I came up blank on, my usual source, but I found it on

Kevin Drum noted, “I have finally figured out who Donald Trump reminds me of. He’s a dumb version of Robert Moses.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 5:21 pm

The human side of Trump’s enthusiasm for deportation

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When an illegal immigrant has built a life in the United States, including a prosperous business and the admiration and support of his community, which he in turn has supported, and he has an American wife and children, what earthly benefit does it do to the country, his town, and his family to send him back to a country he left long ago? Wouldn’t it be better to help him work toward citizenship, since he is clearly the kind of citizen that is good for the US? And wasn’t Trump supposed to be focused on deporting violent criminals? Carlos Hernandez is an upstanding family man and business owner who contributes to the US, pays taxes, and employs people. Isn’t that what we want?

Monica Davey reports in the NY Times:

Ask residents of this coal-mining crossroads about President Trump’s decision to crack down on undocumented immigrants and most offer no protest. Mr. Trump, who easily won this mostly white southern Illinois county, is doing what he promised, they say. As Terry Chambers, a barber on Main Street, put it, the president simply wants “to get rid of the bad eggs.”

But then they took Carlos.

Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco — just Carlos to the people of West Frankfort — has been the manager of La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant in this city of 8,000, for a decade. Yes, he always greeted people warmly at the cheerfully decorated restaurant, known for its beef and chicken fajitas. And, yes, he knew their children by name. But people here tick off more things they know Carlos for.

How one night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort — the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city.

“I think people need to do things the right way, follow the rules and obey the laws, and I firmly believe in that,” said Lori Barron, the owner of Lori’s Hair A’Fairs, a beauty salon. “But in the case of Carlos, I think he may have done more for the people here than this place has ever given him. I think it’s absolutely terrible that he could be taken away.”

On Feb. 9, Mr. Hernandez, 38, was arrested by federal immigration agents near his home, not far from La Fiesta, and taken to a detention facility in Missouri. The federal authorities confirmed that he remained in custody, but would not comment on the precise reason for or timing of his arrest.

Immigration officials noted that Mr. Hernandez had two drunken-driving convictions from 2007, a circumstance that could make him a higher priority for deportation. Friends of his say he crossed into the United States from Mexico in the late 1990s and had started but never completed efforts to legalize his status.

As Victor Arana, a lawyer for Mr. Hernandez, began pressing in court to seek release for Mr. Hernandez on bond until his case can be heard, the community has rallied around him, writing pleas for leniency to the officials who will decide his fate.

Tom Jordan, the mayor of West Frankfort, wrote that Mr. Hernandez was a “great asset” to the city who “doesn’t ask for anything in return.” The fire chief described him as “a man of great character.”

The letters have piled up — from the county prosecutor, the former postmaster, the car dealer, the Rotary Club president. In his note, Richard Glodich, the athletic director at Frankfort Community High School, wrote, “As a grandson of immigrants, I am all for immigration reform, but this time you have arrested a GOOD MAN that should be used as a role model for other immigrants.”

This is an uncomfortable stance for a place like West Frankfort. This county, Franklin, backed Mr. Trump with 70 percent of the vote, largely on hopes, people here say, that he could jump-start the coal industry, which has receded painfully here over decades. Illegal immigration was by no means the most pressing issue for this overwhelmingly white area, residents say.

Still, many say they concur in principle with Mr. Trump’s wish to be more aggressive in blocking those who seek to sneak across the border. Things grew more tangled when principle met West Frankfort’s particular reality, in the form of Carlos.

Many people said they had no idea Mr. Hernandez lacked legal status until word of his arrest began spreading.

“I knew he was Mexican, but he’s been here so long, he’s just one of us,” said Debra Johnson, a resident. She said she saw a distinction between “people who come over and use the system and people who actually come and help.” . . .

Continue reading.

Trump supporters are learning an old lesson: Be careful what you wish for.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 3:59 pm

Under Jeff Sessions, the Dept of Justice turns it back on voting rights

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The Justice Department is now taking a pro-discrimination stand. Jessica Huseman reports in ProPublica:

After arguing for nearly six years that Texas’ voter ID law intentionally discriminated against minorities, the U.S. Department of Justice has informed the other plaintiffs in the case it has abandoned that position. The decision comes one day before the DOJ and the other plaintiffs were scheduled to make their latest arguments against the ID law.

“I think it is clearly a retreat from voting rights,” said Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights for The Campaign Legal Center, which represents plaintiffs in the case. She said her organization has been “raising alarm bells” about new Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ willingness to protect voting rights since he was nominated. Still, today’s decision disturbed her.

“The DOJ reviewed the evidence and found that Texas [passed this law] on purpose to harm minority voters,” she said. “To turn their back on that is something I’m going to reserve my ability to be outraged about.”

The DOJ declined comment. There is no indication that the DOJ plans to withdraw its argument that the Texas law was discriminatory in its effects.

Texas’ voter ID law was passed in 2011, but put on hold after the Justice Department intervened. When the Supreme Court limited the scope of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 decision, Texas put the law into immediate effect. Texans were required to show one of seven forms of government-issued photo ID at the polls in local, statewide and federal elections.

But the law, known as SB 14, was rolled back for the November 2016 election, largely because of the DOJ’s success in arguing the law was discriminatory in intent and effect.

In a scathing 147-page ruling in October 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi wrote, “The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” Her ruling was stayed, pending appeal.

In July 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans — widely considered the most conservative appeals court in the country — upheld Ramos’ ruling that the law had a discriminatory impact on minorities. Minorities and the poor, the appeals court said, were less likely to possess the type of ID required by the law, and the state’s “lackluster” education campaign did little to prepare voters for the changes.

But the Fifth Circuit declined to rule on whether the law had been intentionally written to discriminate against minorities, asking Ramos to reconsider this issue. This is at issue in tomorrow’s hearing. The Fifth Circuit also asked Ramos to create a temporary solution to the law’s discriminatory effect, to be in place by the November election.

Shortly before the November election, Texas and the plaintiffs reached an agreement to allow voters to fill out a waiver if they did not possess one of the seven forms of government-issued photo IDs required by the law. More than 164,000 Texans signed this affidavit during the November election, though an analysis by the Associated Press found that at least 500 Texans voted through an affidavit even though they possessed one of the necessary forms of ID.

This compromise will stay in place until a permanent solution is reached, which the Texas legislature hopes will be during this legislative session. It is now considering a billthat would essentially lock the compromise in place, and impose high criminal penalties of between two and 10 years in prison for lying on the affidavit. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made the legislation a “priority,” which allows it a faster track. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

Just how incompetent is the Trump administration? They were unable to find countries where the US has a trade surplus.

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Maybe they are simply stone ignorant and don’t now how to use research tools? They don’t know which departments to ask for the information? They didn’t think to call the Washington Post, in which Jeff Guo offers a helpful chart? This is the chart:


I don’t know: the Trump administration’s performance so far gives me a better idea of why Trump had so many bankruptcies and couldn’t even make an Atlantic City casino profitable.

Jeff Guo writes:

At a meeting Thursday with the country’s top manufacturing executives, President Trump made a puzzling statement about trade. “We don’t have any good deals. In fact, I am trying to find a country where we actually have a surplus — surplus of trade. Everything is a deficit,” he said. “I actually said to my people: Find a country where we actually do well. So far, we haven’t found that country.”

Data from his own federal agencies tell a much different story. This chart shows the top 15 countries with which we run a trade surplus in goods. At the head of the list are Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium and Australia.

These are not obscure places. Just last week, the Trump Organization opened a golf club in the United Arab Emirates. In the early 1990s, Trump visited Hong Kong to ask a group of Chinese billionaires to help rescue him from bankruptcy. And on the campaign trail last year, Trump once called Belgium a “beautiful city.” (It’s a country.)

Since the president has widely complained about trade deals hurting the manufacturing sector, it’s also worth focusing there. This chart show the top 15 countries where the United States is running a trade surplus specifically in manufactured goods — stuff like cars and machinery and plastics, but not agricultural goods or minerals like wheat or oil.


Our neighbor to the north tops this list, with a trade surplus of $42 billion.  In 2016, the United States sold about $210 billion worth of manufactured goods to Canada, while importing only $167 billion.

Canada doesn’t show up on the other list because we import a lot of oil and gas from up north. Thanks to that, we run a slight trade deficit in goods — about $11 billion in 2016. But remember, that difference is just a small fraction of the overall volume of trade between the United States and Canada. In 2016, we sent $267 billion worth of stuff across the border and imported about $278 billion.

So far, we’ve only looked at trade in goods because that’s what most people think of when they talk about trade — stuff zipping around the world on trucks and boats and planes. But more and more these days, trade also involves services.

Think of American banks and insurance agencies doing business with foreign clients; American consulting firms helping foreign companies; and Hollywood selling movies abroad. When foreign visitors spend money in the United States, that tourism cash also counts as an export.

Services are a big export sector for the United States: In 2016, the nation ran a $750 billion trade deficit in goods but a $250 billion trade surplus in services. . .

Continue reading. More at the link, including a chart and a video.

Trump’s massive ignorance seems to have infected his administration. This is not looking good.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 2:05 pm

It’s not just Sen. Warren: Republicans also want regular citizens to sit down and shut up

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The GOP much prefers if citizens just accept whatever the GOP does, but if citizens insist on speaking up, the GOP is ready to jail them. Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post on bills in at least 18 states to curb protests (exercising the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances). The GOP was never all that big on the Constitution and in particular the Bill of Rights (except the Second Amendment) and by now the Fourth Amendment is just a tattered, frail remnant of what it once was.


Since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.”

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Some are introducing bills because they say they’re necessary to counter the actions of “paid” or “professional” protesters who set out to intimidate or disrupt, a common accusation that experts agree is largely overstated. “You now have a situation where you have full-time, quasi-professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” said Republican state senator John Kavanagh of Arizona in support of a measure there that would bring racketeering charges against some protesters.

Others, like the sponsors of a bill in Minnesota, say the measures are necessary to protect public safety on highways. Still other bills, in states like Oklahoma and South Dakota, are intended to discourage protesting related to oil pipelines.

Democrats in many of these states are fighting the legislation. They cite existing laws that already make it a crime to block traffic, the possibility of a chilling effect on protests across the political spectrum, and concerns for protesters’ safety in the face of aggressive motorists.

None of the proposed legislation has yet been passed into law, and several bills have already been shelved in committee.

Critics doubt whether many of the laws would pass Constitutional muster. “The Supreme Court has gone out of its way on multiple occasions to point out that streets, sidewalks and public parks are places where [First Amendment] protections are at their most robust,” said Lee Rowland, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

This is by no means the first time in American history that widespread protests have inspired a legislative backlash, says Douglas McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor who studies protest movements. “For instance, southern legislatures — especially in the Deep South — responded to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education) with dozens and dozens of new bills outlawing civil rights groups, limiting the rights of assembly, etc. all in an effort to make civil rights organizing more difficult,” he said via email.

“Similarly,” he added, “laws designed to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights were common in the late 19th/early 20th century.”

The ACLU’s Rowland says the new bills are not about “creating new rules that are necessary because of some gap in the law.” She points out, for instance, that “every single city and county in the United States” already has laws on the books against obstructing traffic on busy roads.

Rather, Rowland says the laws’ intent is “increasing the penalties for protest-related activity to the point that it results in self-censorship among protesters who have every intention to obey the law.”

Even the accusations of “paid” or “professional” agitators, which Trump has promoted, have been leveled at protesters before.

“This is standard operating procedure for movement opponents,” Stanford’s McAdam said. “Civil rights workers were said to be ‘outside agitators, and the tea party was dismissed as an ‘AstroTurf’ phenomenon — funded from on high by the Koch brothers and others — rather than a legitimate ‘grass roots’ movement. In all these cases, including the present, the charges are generally bogus, with the vast majority of protesters principled individuals motivated by the force of deeply held values and strong emotion.”

But now, social media has made it possible to organize larger protests more rapidly than ever before. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link along with a state-by-state review.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Law

By special request: Merkur white bakelite slant. Supporting cast: Henri et Victoria Cognac and Cuban Cigars, Rooney, and Cavendish

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SOTD 2017-02-27

A commenter pointed out that the vintage Merkur white bakelite slant had not been seen for a while, so I hauled it out—it was not a long haul—and put it to work this morning.

I did good prep on a two-day stubble (the pleasure of a Monday morning), first washing the stubble well with MR GLO, then working up an excellent lather from Henri et Victoria Cognac and Cuban Cigars. The fragrance was fine, though I would step it up a notch, and the lather was really extremely nice. Like some other very nice shaving soaps (Martin de Candre, Nuávia, and Tcheon Fung Sing come to mind), the ingredients list is simple:

potassium stearate, potassium cocoate, water, glycerine, potassium ricenoalete, parfum

I have to say the Rooney Victorian I have is an extremely nice brush, and I don’t doubt that it did its part in making the lather so fine.

And now the pièce de résistance (a nod to the Quebecois origin of the soap): the white bakelite slant. It is more comfortable than I remembered. It does have more blade feel than, say, the X3, but what razor doesn’t? (Well, Rockwell R1 and Feather AS-D2, for two.) But even with a bit more blade feel it is still quite comfortable, and it is certainly efficient: mostly BBS after the second pass, and totally BBS after the third. A tiny nick on one side of the upper lip, but easily stopped with My Nik Is Sealed.

A wonderful shave, and I think the white bakelite slant may make more appearances. When it first came on to the market, it was totally astonishing. This was before the slant renascence and its popularity and acclaim doubtless contributed to that.

A good splash of Phoenix Artisan Cavendish completed the shave and stayed true to the tobacco theme.

A great way to start the week.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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