Later On

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Archive for April 21st, 2017

Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president: Goals and outcomes

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Via Kevin Drum, whose post comments on this:

That’s what Trump said then. Here’s what Trump says now:

Poor Donald Trump. He thought everyone would understand that he didn’t mean a single one of his many promises, and the media are so mean to remind people of what he promised. Poor little boy.

UPDATE: This seems to be a typical Trump pattern. Joe Uchill reports in The Hill:

President Trump faces a Thursday deadline to release a report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election — one he appears unlikely to meet.

Trump made the promise in January while swatting down reports about a dossier that allegedly suggested connections between his campaign and Russia.

“My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!” he announced in a January tweet 

But it appears that little work has taken place within the administration to produce the report.

Emails from The Hill to the National Security Council and the Department of Justice were not immediately returned on Thursday.

Separately, a spokesperson for the National Security Council denied to Politico any involvement in a new report, as did Rudy Giuliani — who is advising Trump on private sector cybersecurity issues. Politico reported that the White House would not answer questions about the report directly.

Democrats are starting to criticize Trump over the report.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a written statement it was “deeply distressing” that the president would “not only miss this deadline, but that the work has not even begun.”

“After castigating his predecessor for not sufficiently prioritizing the cyber threat, the President’s failure to demonstrate any sense of urgency on the matter is all the more inexplicable,” wrote Schiff.

If a report is not released on Thursday, it will be the second cybersecurity item on the Trump agenda that has failed to come to fruition. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2017 at 4:14 pm

Bank robber turned Georgetown law professor is just getting started on his goals

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Susan Svrluga profiles an interesting law professor in the Washington Post:

During a break in a basketball game to raise money for charity, Shon Hopwood told some of his Georgetown law students it felt different than the last time he was on a court: When he played basketball in federal prison, he had to carry a shank in case his team started to lose.

His students laughed. He ran back onto the law-school court — and sank the winning shot.

Hopwood’s new job as a tenure-track faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center is only the latest improbable twist in a remarkable life: In the last 20 years, he has robbed banks in small towns in Nebraska, spent 11 years in federal prison, written a legal petition for a fellow inmate so incisive that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, done that again, earned undergraduate and law degrees and extremely competitive clerkships, written a book, married his hometown crush and started a family.

But this could be his most compelling role yet. His time in prison gave him a searing understanding of the impact of sentencing and the dramatic growth in incarceration in the United States, an unusual perspective on the law that allows him to see things other lawyers overlook. And he takes the job at a time when criminal-justice issues have real urgency, from lawmakers to protesters to students.

“It’s one of the big social-justice issues of our time,” he said. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. “Between prison, jail, home confinement, probation, parole, combined it’s about 10 million people. It’s a big number.” And almost three-quarters of released prisoners are back in custody five years later. He hopes to change some of that.

“The story’s still writing itself,” he said in his office recently, marveling while students hurried to class outside. “I feel like I’m living someone else’s life quite often these days.”

Shon Hopwood’s life didn’t start out as remarkable. It began with a happy childhood in a town of 2,500 people in Nebraska. His dad managed a cattle feed yard and his parents helped found a church. He was friendly and well-liked, uninterested in school, and best known for his skill on the basketball court.

An athletic scholarship to college ended when he got kicked out for not going to class. After two years in the U.S. Navy, he drifted back to Nebraska, depressed, drinking, doing some drugs, living in his parents’ basement and working 12-hour shifts on a cattle farm, shoveling manure.

One night his best friend turned to him in a bar and suggested that they rob a bank.

In August 1997, Hopwood walked into a bank, sweating, heart racing, dropped a metal toolbox to the floor with a bang and pulled a rifle from his coveralls. With the terrified customers and tellers locked into a vault he sped away with $50,000 of other people’s money and his friend, who knew every bit as well as he did that what they had done was horribly wrong.

His friend suggested sending the money back, with a note. Instead, Hopwood went on to rob four more banks.

At his sentencing, 30 family members stood behind him, most of them crying. He was 23 years old. Judge Richard Kopf thought he was a punk. He had not forgotten Nebraska’s history of violent bank robberies. When Hopwood told him he was going to turn his life around, Kopf said something disdainful like: I guess we’ll see in about 13 years.

His first morning in federal prison, Hopwood got up early to work out and watched as two inmates yanked another one from a pullup bar, knocked him to the ground and stomped on the man with steel-toe boots leaving bits of teeth in pools of blood.

Working in the prison law library sounded like a good idea.

At first, he just checked books out. But in the summer of 2000, a Supreme Court decision caught inmates’ attention: Essentially, Hopwood explained, “things that can increase your sentence need to be proven to a jury, or you need to plead guilty to them.” He had been sentenced based on guidelines for armed robbery, even though he had pleaded guilty to unarmed robbery. A technicality, maybe, but he began dreaming of getting out early. Among all the other reasons to leave, he had begun a friendship, by mail, with a girl from back home.

After two months of research, he mailed off a brief and quickly got a response: He had filed it to the wrong court.

And when he redirected his appeal, Kopf denied it; the new decision did not apply retroactively in his case.

Still, something had clicked. Trying to figure out a solution to the legal puzzle was the first academic thing Hopwood had ever enjoyed. And it came easy. Soon he was sending memos to other inmates’ lawyers, suggesting strategies. Then he was writing briefs.

He was finding errors, often from overworked public defenders, like a young black man sentenced to 16 and a half years for possessing less than a handful of crack cocaine because he had mistakenly been labeled a career offender. With Hopwood’s help, his sentence was reduced by more than 10 years.

The third brief he ever wrote was for a friend whose appeal had been denied. Hopwood spent months learning about the Supreme Court and habeas petitions, and one night he realized how he could frame an argument using the Sixth Amendment rather than the Fifth. After many drafts, honed by conversations with fellow inmates that forced him to distill the legal issues into simple, compelling logic, he typed out a petition for certiorari and mailed it off.

Months later, he was working out early one morning when a prisoner came running toward him, screaming that Hopwood was going to die. He tensed for a fight; he had recently survived a situation in which he fully expected to be stabbed to death by gang members.

But the man was holdng a newspaper, with the story of the Supreme Court accepting a petition from a federal prisoner.

The odds of that happening are maybe one in 10,000, said Seth Waxman, the former solicitor general of the United States who agreed to argue the case for free. He read the petition with amazement. “It was incredibly good. It really identified, in sort of a crystalline form, the questions presented. It explained the conflict, it explained the importance.”

He immediately wanted to talk to the bank robber who could write such a thing, and thus began a friendship that would help change the trajectory of Hopwood’s life.

Now Hopwood was spending his time doing things like reading a 1,650-page textbook on criminal procedure. Twice. And with new sentencing guidelines, he was busy churning out work for other inmates, taking on 10 or more cases at a time. “I was running a law firm in prison,” he said lightly. Because he was now convinced that sentences beyond about five years didn’t make sense for any but the most dangerous criminals, because he was upset by the disparities in sentences, because he saw prison more often hardening people or cutting off their chances for reform than turning their lives around, he enjoyed seeing people packing for home. He had another petition granted by the Supreme Court.

When he walked out of prison in October 2008, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2017 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Gerrymandering Heads to Supreme Court

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Michael Wines reports in the NY Times:

The hand-to-hand political combat in House elections on Tuesday in Georgia and last week in Kansas had the feel of the first rounds of an epic battle next year for control of the House of Representatives and the direction of national politics as the Trump presidency unfolds.

But for all the zeal on the ground, none of it may matter as much as a case heading to the Supreme Court, one that could transform political maps from City Hall to Congress — often to Democrats’ benefit.

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

Now the Wisconsin case is headed to a Supreme Court that has repeatedly said that extreme partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, but has never found a way to decide which ones cross the line.

Some legal scholars believe this could be the year that changes that. If that happens, they say, an emphatic ruling against partisan gerrymanders would rank with another redistricting decision: Baker v. Carr, the historic 1962 case that led to the principle of one person, one vote.

“My feeling is that there is increasing concern within the court about the extent of partisan gerrymandering over the last 10 or 15 years,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at the New York University School of Law. “I do think this is a pivotal moment — a big, big moment.”

Gerrymandering has always been contentious. But the extraordinary success of a Republican strategy to control redistricting by capturing majorities in state legislatures in the 2010 elections has lent urgency to the debate.

Today, at a time of hyperpartisan politics and computer technology that can measure political leanings almost house by house, Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House.

In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in recent years, their numbers in the House of Representatives have hovered near levels last seen during the Truman administration.

Partly because of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymanders based on race are flatly illegal, but ones based on partisan intent remain in limbo.

The Wisconsin case heads four legal actions on partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court could consider and, perhaps, consolidate. In Maryland, another three-judge panel will hear arguments over whether a Democratic legislature gerrymandered House districts in 2011 to oust a 10-term Republican congressman.

In North Carolina, a June hearing is scheduled in a suit over the unabashedly partisan carving of the state into 10 Republican and three Democratic House seats — this in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The state representative who drew that map said he had engineered 10 safely Republican seats only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Experts disagree over how much gerrymandering has hurt Democrats. One prominent 2013 study mostly blamed geography, not partisanship, because Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But the most recent study, by a Princeton professor, Samuel S. H. Wang, concluded that gerrymanders had cost Democrats as many as 22 House seats in the 2012 election — nearly enough to flip the chamber’s control.

Politicians, on the other hand, appear certain of their electoral potency. Former President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are spearheading an initiative to undo Republicans’ redistricting triumphs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, is leading a movement to outlaw gerrymanders of any political stripe.

Wisconsin Republican leaders say they dominate the Legislature because they have both a better strategy and vision of governing, not because of illegal gerrymandering.

“In a year when people want change, even in a district that favors one party over another, a good candidate with a good message wins,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker.

But the court said in November that the redistricting clearly aimed to entrench Republican control of the Assembly. The party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and has since added three more.

As in all gerrymanders, Wisconsin’s mapmakers hobbled their opponents in two ways. One was to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, leaving fewer Democrats for potentially competitive ones. In 2012, 21 of the 39 Assembly districts that Democrats won were so lopsided that Republicans did not even field candidates. In two more, Democrats captured at least 94 percent of the vote.

The other method was to fracture unwinnable Democratic districts, salting their Democrats among Republican-majority districts so that races there became closer yet remained out of Democrats’ reach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2017 at 10:59 am

A look at Vanguard and why it works so well

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Landon Thomas, Jr., has a good profile of Vanguard:

The Vanguard trading floor is the epicenter of one of the great financial revolutions of modern times, yet it is a surprisingly relaxed place.

A few men and women gaze at Bloomberg terminals. There is a muted television or two and a view of verdant suburban Philadelphia. No one is barking orders to buy or sell stock. For a $4.2 trillion mutual fund giant that is still growing rapidly, it occupies a small fraction of the space of a typical Wall Street trading hub.

You can barely hear the quiet hum of money being invested — money in scarcely imaginable quantities, pouring into low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (E.T.F.s) that track financial markets.

In the last three calendar years, investors sank $823 billion into Vanguard funds, the company says. The scale of that inflow becomes clear when it is compared with the rest of the mutual fund industry — more than 4,000 firms in total. All of them combined took in just a net $97 billion during that period, Morningstar data shows. Vanguard, in other words, scooped up about 8.5 times as much money as all of its competitors.

“Flows of this magnitude into one company are unprecedented,” said Alina Lamy, an expert on fund flows at Morningstar. “Since the crisis, investors have been saying, ‘I may not be able to control the market, but I can control how much I pay in mutual fund expenses.’ And when they look for quality funds with low fees, the first answer is Vanguard.”

The triumph of index fund investing means Vanguard’s traders funnel as much as $2 billion a day into stocks like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, as well as thousands of smaller companies that the firm’s fleet of funds track. That is 20 times the amount that Vanguard was investing on a daily basis in 2009. It is manageable, in large part, because no stock-picking is involved: The money simply flows into index funds and E.T.F.s, and through February of this year, nine out of every 10 dollars invested in a United States mutual fund or E.T.F. was absorbed by Vanguard.

By any measure, these are staggering figures. Vanguard’s assets under management have skyrocketed to $4.2 trillion from $1 trillion seven years ago, according to the company. About $3 trillion of this is invested in passive index-based strategies, with the rest in funds that rely on an active approach to picking stocks and bonds.

More broadly, this deluge of money abandoning higher-price actively managed funds for Vanguard’s plain vanilla cut-rate vehicles has come as an existential shock to a mutual industry that has long been resistant to change.

What is being called the Vanguard effect was felt last month when the indexing giant’s rival, BlackRock, announced that it would revamp its stock-picking operations, promoting instead a process that relies more on computer-driven methodologies.

The effect within Vanguard has been no less profound. For decades, the firm has made the case that cheaper index funds will, over time, outperform more-expensive mutual funds that rely on brainy portfolio managers to pick stocks.

The main advocate of this doctrine was the founder, John C. Bogle, who retired in 1999 but runs a research operation on the Vanguard campus. For years, the firm has relied more on his simple message and the passion of his devotees than on fancy advertising campaigns to spread the word.

Unlike its peers, Vanguard is owned by its funds — and ultimately its investors — so as money rushes in, expenses are persistently reduced, resulting in perpetual savings for the legions of Vanguard clients. They number well over 20 million and include New York Times employees: Vanguard runs the company’s 401(k) retirement plans.

The model has been a powerful one: Since 1976, fees on Vanguard funds have fallen to about 0.12 percent from about 0.70 percent. By comparison, Lipper calculates that the average fee for all mutual funds is currently 1 percent, although it has been coming down rapidly.

“Mr. Bogle used to say, ‘This is not our money,’ and I agree,” said F. William McNabb III, Vanguard’s chief executive, referring to the extraordinary inflows. “For many years, there has been a real move to our way of investing. And it’s more than active versus passive — it’s high cost versus low cost.”

This no-frills approach has come under some strain as cash flowing into Vanguard funds reaches new highs year after year, some people who follow Vanguard closely say. There have been reports of operational snarls, including website outages, longer-than-usual wait times on the phone and misdirected fund transfers.

“All this growth has come at the same time that the company has been cutting costs,” said Daniel P. Wiener, the editor of the Independent Adviser, a newsletter for Vanguard investors, who says he has received many complaints about the current state of customer service at Vanguard. “Most companies when they are growing spend more. Vanguard is trying to spend less. At some point, cutting costs will bite you.”

There is no doubt about Vanguard’s commitment to pinching pennies. In touring the 287-acre campus of pathways, low-slung buildings and a commanding statue of Mr. Bogle, the sensibility is decidedly puritan. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2017 at 10:52 am

Posted in Business

The German 37 slant delivers a great shave

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LA Shaving Soap Company makes excellent shaving soaps, and their Vanilla/Eucalyptus/Mint is a favorite. The menthol load is light, which I prefer, and the lather is really excellent, this morning worked up with the Plisson brush shown.

The RazoRock German 37 slant from Italian Barber is a bargain: $20 for the razor or $12 for the head alone. It’s a Merkur slant clone, and it delivers a really fine shave (for me, at any rate): totally BBS with no trace of a problem. I like the feel of the handle, as well. If you’re thinking about a slant and hesitating because of the cost, the German 37 is well worth considering. And if you have a three-piece razor, you can use your current handle with the German 37 head.

A good splash of Floris No. 89 aftershave to complete the task, and the day is well begun.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2017 at 10:01 am

Posted in Shaving

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