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Archive for May 14th, 2017

Intriguing column by Jennifer Rubin: “The next FBI director”

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She writes in the Washington Post:

The Post reports:

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Senate Republican who has in recent weeks become a more outward defender of President Trump, and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who on Thursday contradicted the Trump White House on a range of topics, will interview Saturday to serve as the FBI’s permanent director, according to people familiar with the matter.

The men are two of at least four people who will interview to replace James B. Comey, whom Trump suddenly fired earlier this week, the people said.

The others are Alice Fisher, a white-collar defense lawyer who previously led the Justice Department’s criminal division, and Michael J. Garcia, a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals who previously served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Other names mentioned include two partisans, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and former congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who were enmeshed in the Benghazi investigations that ultimately went nowhere. The notion that a partisan Republican would even be considered suggests a lack of appreciation for the damage done to the president’s credibility and the independence of the Russia investigation.

Among those interviewing the next director is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose participation in the firing of James B. Comey raises ethical and legal questions. Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general whose memo was used as a pretext for firing Comey, is also participating. How are we to know if the contenders will be asked about the ongoing investigation? How will we know they will not be selected because they hint at a jaundiced view of the Russia investigation? (The investigation has metastasized with the report that the Justice Department is seeking “banking records of Paul Manafort as part of a widening of probes related to President Donald Trump’s former campaign associates and whether they colluded with Russia in interfering with the 2016 election.”) We won’t — unless the president’s conversations are in fact being recorded.

Democrats are threatening to stall the hearings on a new FBI director unless Rosenstein agrees to name a special counsel (to replace himself in overseeing the FBI probe into Russian interference in the election). However, they may reconsider after hearing his testimony next week in a briefing for all 100 senators. He may provide information and/or establish credibility with the Senate that persuades both Republicans and Democrats to leave him in place to continue investigating the Russia affair.

There is no downside for Democrats and for conscientious Republicans in refusing to move forward with a permanent FBI director. For now, McCabe is doing the job. He’s the one person who we know Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein would have had no role in influencing. It’s not even clear the partisan Republicans will want a confirmation hearing for a new FBI director. This would devolve into a tutorial on obstruction of justice, queries about a White House taping system, a reaffirmation of the conclusion that Russia meddled in our election (which would contradict the president) and a critique of Trump’s alleged conversations with Comey.

The one measure that Congress does have within its power is appointment of a special commission or select committee, which would be within Congress’s domain. (The former would likely require legislation, which might need to be passed on a veto-proof majority.) . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the rest. Quite a punchline.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 2:15 pm

Terminology change: They are “protections,” not “regulations”

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The whole purpose of regulations is to protect the public. So let’s call them “protections,” since that is what they are. Trump is not repealing environmental “regulations,” he’s doing away with environmental protections.

George Lakoff thought of this, and he’s right. A very good note at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 1:20 pm

A Malibu lawyer is upending California’s political system, one town at a time

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Robin Abcarian reports in the LA Times:

Kevin Shenkman, who is tall and bookish, does not look like the aspiring light heavyweight boxer he once was.

Clearly, though, he still relishes a good fight.

For the past several years, Shenkman, 38, who lives and practices law in Malibu, has been suing, or threatening to sue, cities all over Southern California, demanding they change the way they elect members of their city councils in order to increase the numbers of African-American and Latino representatives.

Many have agreed to do so, though some have resisted before capitulating.

Shenkman’s legal cudgel is the California Voter Rights Act, which for 15 years has made it easier for minority groups to prove that they are disenfranchised by at-large elections, where all voters of a city vote for all members of a city council.

Many believe this practice has institutionalized racial discrimination, allowing blocs of white voters to overwhelm the choices of blacks and Latinos. Until Shenkman sued Palmdale, for instance, where about two-thirds of residents are minorities, only one Latino, a Republican, had ever been elected to office.

“Obviously, the leadership did not represent the people they served,” said Darren Parker, who serves as chairman of the California Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus. “I’ve lived in the Antelope Valley for over 30 years, and had been trying to obtain some sort of equity or diversity in the leadership.”

In 2012, Parker decided the only way to change things was to sue the city for violating the California Voter Rights Act. He did some research and found a story about a young attorney who had sued Panda Express for failing to disclose that it put chicken broth in its steamed vegetables. Something about that appealed to Parker, who had once worked for McDonald’s, so he phoned Shenkman.

“When he called, I told Darren I had no idea what he was talking about, but I thought, ‘I’m a Democrat, and this sounds important, I’ll look into it,’” Shenkman told me. He asked his law partner, Mary Hughes, who happens to be his wife, what she thought. “She said, ‘You are crazy.’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ ”

He contacted three voting-rights experts — constitutional law professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law school, Cal Tech history professor Morgan Kausser and demographer David Ely — who helped him figure out how to approach the case, and then brought in two experienced trial lawyers, R. Rex Parris (who happens to be the mayor of Lancaster) and Milton Grimes, perhaps best-known as the late Rodney King’s attorney.

Shenkman expected the Palmdale case to resolve quickly, but the city fought back. In 2013, the case went to trial. Palmdale lost. A judge ordered new, by-district elections.

In November, Palmdale elected its first Democratic Latino City Councilman, Juan Carillo, from a new district on the city’s east side, “one of our first success stories,” as Parker told me.

“I think Kevin was heaven-sent,” Parker said. “He is dedicated to serving others in spite of himself sometimes. I think he is so zealous that he forgets to eat and sleep.”

As the Voting Rights Act requires, Palmdale had to reimburse Shenkman’s legal costs, which were about $4.6 million.

Even if other cities didn’t see the benefit in switching to district elections for the right reasons, it soon became clear that moving to district elections was a sure way to avoid sky-high legal fees. Because they were probably going to lose.


Shenkman first came to my attention last week because he was the subject of a meandering profile on the Breitbart website, . . .

Continue reading.


. . . After he won in Palmdale, Shenkman was contacted by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a Lincoln Heights-based group with a decades-long history in “the voting rights business,” as its president Antonio Gonzalez put it. He considers district elections “a paramount tool in the voting rights toolbox.”

“Palmdale created a new conventional wisdom for cities, which is, ‘We are not going to win, so let’s work it out,’” Gonzales said. “We just sent another 15 demand letters, so we are up to 25 jurisdictions.”

Before the year is out, he said, “We’re going to do 100.”

As my colleague Phil Willon reported last month, out of California’s 482 cities, only 59 hold district elections, and no city that holds at-large elections has ever prevailed in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 12:23 pm

What characteristics are common to entities that are the outcome of a Darwinian process?

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I’m think specifically of the two types that we know develop by evolution (by which I mean the process algorithm defined by Darwin: reproduction with occasional variation and finite resources, which results in some thriving and others withering): lifeforms (single-celled lifeforms, plants, fungi, animals) and memes (product of human culture, such as language, music, dance, tools, social standing, buildings, norms of behavior, ideologies, and so on). Both are the products of evolution. What common characteristics show that?

Manifold divergence of forms, which in effect find every niche and cranny to exploit (since lack of competition helps with prospering). Also, complexity increasing over time, as things are added and turn out to be advantageous (and thus selected for). Another, once a reasonable level of complexity is reached, is individual uniqueness: no two alike, since the number potential variations is effectively unlimited: any sample we examine closely will show individual differences, and at a sufficient level of complexity the uniqueness is obvious—we use DNA matching to identify uniquely the person who left the DNA trace. However, I would imagine that individual uniqueness is perhaps not so significant in (say) a bacterium, though even there one can find differences in (say) the molecular pattern of the cell wall: slightly differing arrangements.

Also, both require energy from outside themselves (since otherwise entropy would prevent increasing complexity): in the case of lifeforms the comes from chemical reactions (around the deep-ocean vents that are shaping up to be the progenitor of life) or from the sun; in the case of memes, the resource is human attention, knowledge, and practice: those are required for memes—although perhaps if humans provide the energy (again, ultimately from the sun, since humans use that energy to power themselves (via food)), one can imagine a computer running rapid series of algorithmic evolution (through genetic programming) that would produce memes without direct human involvement: the Singularity, in effect.

And this kind of genetic algorithmic development can produce unexpected outcomes (PDF), just as do lifeforms in their evolutiona (e.g., the parasite that eats the tongue of a clownfish and then grips on to act in place of the tongue, enabling the clownfish to continue living, thus providing a steady food supply for the parasite).

Otherwise, it’s hard to think of common characteristics. Can you think of any?

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Memes

What would the government do after a WMD attack? We have no idea.

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Garrett Graff reports in the Washington Post:

If North Korea launches a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, one of the only things we know for sure about what will happen next is that the news will race around the world on classified networks using the designation reserved for the Pentagon’s highest-level alert, an “OPREP-3 PINNACLE NUCFLASH,” which signals a possible imminent nuclear war. After that, though, we know surprisingly little about what might unfold — particularly if a surprise attack managed to cripple Washington. (As Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) pointed out last month, North Koreans wouldn’t necessarily have to fire an intercontinental missile; they could always smuggle a nuke into the country, even if they probably wouldn’t hide it in a bale of marijuana, as he proposed.)

For three generations, government officials have carefully planned, war-gamed and thought through exactly what nuclear war would entail, and how to protect and rebuild the country in the event of an attack on the capital or elsewhere. They’ve considered which critical documents should be saved before others (the Declaration of Independence first, the Constitution second) and precisely who and how many officials from each agency and department should be evacuated — literally creating “A” teams, “B” teams and “C” teams who would be plucked by helicopters from dozens of designated landing zones around Washington, such as the Pentagon and the athletic fields of American University, and whisked to mountain bunkers near the capital.

Over the years, the government has secretly invested billions of dollars in a complicated set of plans that came to be known as “continuity of government” (COG) and “continuity of operations” (COOP) — an entire apparatus, almost completely unknown to the general public, for when the Doomsday Clock hits midnight. In Philadelphia, a specially trained team of park rangers even stood ready during the Cold War to evacuate the Liberty Bell into the mountains of Appalachia if the Soviets attacked. We know many of these details thanks to records declassified in recent years as the Cold War abated.

But new versions of these plans exist, and we know precious little about them. What we do know raises troubling questions about who would command the country in a moment of crisis — questions that, left unanswered, threaten to undermine the carefully laid-out plans. The government has long held that even hinting at the plans could aid the enemy, but in a democratic society, we should have a much better understanding of what our leaders intend to do in our name after an attack by weapons of mass destruction. The legitimacy of our republican system is based on the consent of the governed — and now, before a catastrophe ever happens, is precisely when we should debate what Armageddon’s aftermath might look like.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Today, the most important category of these plans, known as “Enduring Constitutional Government,” remains entirely classified, hidden even from members of Congress. The White House will describe it only as “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, coordinated by the President, to preserve the capability to execute constitutional responsibilities in a catastrophic emergency.” It’s clear from a close reading of available executive orders, as well as interviews I’ve conducted and vague public hints from officials since the 1990s, that ECG policies don’t necessarily preserve peacetime constitutional precedents, instead focusing on establishing a streamlined process to ensure that the nation’s constitutional traditions could be reestablished over time. In other words, ECG programs are aimed at preserving the spirit of the Constitution, not the letter of it. That might mean vast expansions of executive power, limits on traditional civil liberties such as habeas corpus and even the declaration of some type of martial law, as two former senior officials hinted in interviews after 9/11.

Moreover, the plans probably vest an incredible amount of authority in a small group of people whose identities will be unveiled to the nation only after the worst has happened. We do know at least one of these figures, though: The man who updated these plans after Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s deputy White House chief of staff, Joe Hagin, today holds the same role in the Trump White House.

Doomsday plans have always assumed that the president will die in the opening moments of an attack, so during the Reagan years, a secret program called the Presidential Successor Support System was designed to whisk former high-level officials, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, from their private lives and install them as White House chiefs-of-staff-in-waiting. According to my research and interviews, the goal of the program was to ensure that a neophyte presidential successor — say, the agriculture secretary — would have an experienced staff already in place when he or she arrived at the bunker. Do such programs exist today? Might we, after a NUCFLASH alert, find someone like former chiefs of staff Andy Card or Denis McDonough waiting in a bunker for President Betsy DeVos or President Ben Carson?

There are a troubling number of scenarios in which we wouldn’t know who the rightful president would be if Washington was attacked. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 11:29 am

Posted in Government

Trump’s Newest Wall Street Watchdog Sidesteps Ethics Scrutiny

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Jesse Hamilton and Robert Schmidt report in Bloomberg:

The Trump administration used a highly unusual personnel move to skirt Senate confirmation and standard ethics requirements when it installed a financial services lawyer atop a powerful banking regulator.

Keith Noreika’s transition from representing banks to overseeing them came courtesy of a quick two-step. He was made “first deputy” at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a designation that ensured he would ascend to the top job once it opened. Then the administration ousted Thomas Curry, an OCC head picked by Barack Obama who had imposed tough rules and record fines on lenders. Just like that, Noreika became acting comptroller.

While the OCC says Noreika has mitigated potential conflicts, there’s been no public disclosure of an ethics agreement or his former clients. He represented Wall Street firms and an online brokerage that needs the OCC’s sign-off to complete a merger, according to legal filings and a biography that was posted on the website of his previous employer, law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

Once Noreika assumed his post on midnight May 5, President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gained a needed ally in their push to undo financial regulations, an effort that has started slowly because Obama holdovers still lead key agencies. But some Democratic lawmakers and ethics lawyers said the rush to get Noreika into the job is troubling.

‘Unvetted Attorney’

“Mr. Noreika is an unvetted attorney who lacks the experience to serve as an independent Wall Street watchdog,” Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in an email. “His work in the private sector creates an unprecedented series of conflicts of interest –- further underscoring the need for anyone serving as comptroller to go through the Senate confirmation process.”

Noreika’s position is supposed to be temporary. According to the OCC, he is a “special government employee,” a designation that comes with less stringent ethics rules and frees him from having to sign Trump’s ethics pledge, as long as he serves fewer than 130 days in a 365-day period. The pledge, usually required of all administration appointees, is meant to restrict officials from using their posts for personal gain and includes a 5-year lobbying ban.

The special employee status was designed for part-time government advisers — not the heads of agencies — and it allows those types of workers to earn money in the private sector during their service. Noreika, however, has severed ties to his law firm, OCC spokesman Bryan Hubbard said.

“I plan to abide by all ethical rules and guidelines and recuse myself wherever appropriate,” Noreika said in statement, adding that he’s “honored” to serve until the next comptroller is confirmed by the Senate. . .

Continue reading.

Trump is going to do a lot of damage to our country before he stops/is stopped.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 11:15 am

Learn Anything In Four Steps With The Feynman Technique

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No author is provided, but this post has some good pointers:

With the Feynman Technique, you learn by teaching someone else a topic in simple terms so you can quickly pinpoint the holes in your knowledge. After four steps, you’re able to understand concepts more deeply and better retain the information.

Why It’s Important

The Feynman Technique is a mental model that was coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Known as the “Great Explainer,” Feynman was revered for his ability to clearly illustrate dense topics like quantum physics for virtually anybody. In “Feynman’s Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun,” David Goodstein writes that Feynman prided himself on being able to explain the most complex ideas in the simplest terms. Goodstein once asked Feynman to explain why “spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac.” Feynman replied that he’d prepare a freshman lecture on it, but then he came back a few days later empty handed. “I couldn’t reduce it to freshman level,” he admitted to Goodstein. “That means we don’t really understand it.” That is to say, if Feynman couldn’t explain something in simple terms, there was a problem with the information, not with Feynman’s teaching ability.

Why People Are Talking About It

The Feynman Technique is laid out clearly in James Gleick’s 1993 biography, “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.” In the book, Gleick explains the method in terms of how Feynman mastered his exams at Princeton University: “He opened a fresh notebook. On the title page he wrote: NOTEBOOK OF THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT. For the first but not last time he reorganized his knowledge. He worked for weeks at disassembling each branch of physics, oiling the parts, and putting them back together, looking all the while for the raw edges and inconsistencies. He tried to find the essential kernels of each subject.” This is the first part of his process, but let’s take a look at all four steps:

1. Pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it. Write down everything you know about the topic on a notebook page, and add to that page every time you learn something new about it.

2. Pretend to teach your topic to a classroom. Make sure you’re able to explain the topic in simple terms.

3. Go back to the books when you get stuck. The gaps in your knowledge should be obvious. Revisit problem areas until you can explain the topic fully.

4. Simplify and use analogies. Repeat the process while simplifying your language and connecting facts with analogies to help strengthen your understanding.

The Feynman Technique is perfect for learning a new idea, understanding an existing idea better, remembering an idea, or studying for a test. We weren’t kidding when we said it was good for anything. How would you use this technique?

There are several YouTube videos explaining the Feynman technique. Here are a couple:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 9:21 am

Posted in Education

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