Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

WA Senator Murray Thinks She has a Deal to Save the CSR

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate health committee, said he hopes to release a bill this week, in collaboration with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the senior Democrat on the committee, to fund the cost-sharing reduction payments and give states more leeway on insurance rules.”

Not sure why Senator Murray feels the need to go down this avenue when the preceding Executive Order already wandered into greater flexibility for states, states rights, and who decides what. As has been explained by the CBO, Drum, other pundits, and myself; the loss in out-of-pocket subsidies will result in increased premiums which are “still” paid for by the ACA between 138% and 250% FPL. In some cases, Bronze plans can be had for free, Silver plans become cheaper, and Gold plans offering better care and lower deductibles attainable.

Senator Murray is giving away the store if what Senator Alexander says is true. “Alexander said Murray agreed to a deal giving states ‘meaningful’ flexibility on coverage rules. Asked what the stumbling blocks to the deal are, Alexander replied: ‘The definition of meaningful.'”

We have already seen what the word meaningful means with regard to the expansion of Medicaid in some states . . . it never happened. I am hoping Senator Murray has second thoughts and decides not to go farther with her thoughts on negotiating with the Republicans as she is off base and we will be better off by not altering what is law already and it is the ACA.

Premiums will go up in 2018 as no one is going to trust Trump regardless of any deal reached with the Republicans.

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Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

Via The Intercept

Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

ICE confirmed to The Intercept that the handbook reflects the agency’s most up-to-date guidance on asset forfeiture. Agents under its instruction are asked to weigh the competing priorities of law enforcement versus financial profit and to “not waste instigative time and resources” on assets it calls “liabilities” — which include properties that are not profitable enough for the federal government to justify seizing. “As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.

The handbook also instructs ICE agents on the various ways laws can be used to justify the seizure of a property, and devotes a significant portion of its pages to the seizure of real estate. The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether “a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity” in order to justify seizing the property.

The handbook acknowledges that civil forfeiture can be used to take property from a person even when there’s not enough evidence for a criminal indictment. There “may be third party interest that would prevail in a criminal case, but would not survive in a civil proceeding, making the civil proceeding essential to forfeiture,” the handbook states, referencing a property owner not officially implicated in a crime. “Those situations generally occur when a property owner is not convicted of a crime but is also not an innocent owner. Under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.”

Noting that ICE is not alone among federal agencies in relying on asset forfeiture,

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New State Laws Passed in California

Election Tax Returns

In an effort to force our present president when running for re-election and future presidential candidates to release income tax returns, California passed SB249 Disclose Act. California became the first state to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state ballot.

Lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown AB249 Friday requiring candidates to publicly share five years of returns.

This comes after President Trump’s refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign. His actions sparked similar legislation in dozens of other states. The documents reveal income sources, tax exemptions, charitable donations and potential financial conflicts of interest.

Until Trump, every major presidential candidates has released their returns for decades.

Criminal Background Checks

In new legislation, California employers could not initially ask during the interview process if potential employees have a criminal history. AB1008 Employment Discrimination: Conviction History bill was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. The California Assembly on Friday gave final approval to a bill that supporters say would mean more ex-felons could get jobs and stay out of trouble.

Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento says AB1008 would allow employers to ask about criminal histories later in the process. It requires businesses with five or more employees to inquire into and consider convictions only after the applicant has received a conditional job offer.

California joins nine other states with similar restrictions on asking about criminal history. There was no spoken opposition as the Assembly agreed with Senate restrictions on a 41-25 vote.

Campaign Advertising

California voters would know more about who’s paying for campaign advertising under AB249 just sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. AB 249 California Disclose Act requires ballot measure and independent expenditure committees to display the names of the top three donors.

AB249 also requires a clear disclosure of donors behind campaign committees having misleading names. The California Clean Money Campaign sponsoring the legislation said: “no other state disclosure laws reveals to voters more information about donors who increasingly hide behind a series of bland sounding political committees and groups to remove any identity of their contributions supporting candidates or new laws.”

Supporters say the bill will help voters make better decisions based on greater information.

Republicans say the bill should require labor unions to disclose individual members who contribute. Only the union would be listed under the bill and not its members.

The Assembly gave final approval on a 55-12 vote.

State Sanctuary Bill

California approved SB54 California Values Act, a “sanctuary state” bill Saturday that would limit how local and state police can interact with federal immigration agents. The bill is intended to provide more immigrant protections in the state which are already among the toughest in the nation.

It will now be considered by Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support after the top state Senate leader agreed to water down the bill and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to cooperate with immigration officers in many cases.

It looks like some states are doing something to counter big money, Republican values, and Trump.

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Laugh at Sessions and Suddenly You Are in Federal Court?

Fairooz was detained after audibly laughing after Sen. Richard Shelby told senators at Sessions’ confirmation hearing that the then-Alabama senator had a record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.”

That is laughable as Sessions is flying under the radar having learned you can not be so overt about racism and prejudice.

Mind you, Desiree Fairooz did say something after Congressional Security start to remove her from the room. “Support civil rights, stop Sessions” and yelled “Why am I being taken out of here? This man is evil.”

Nonviolent civil disobedience is little more than a misdemeanor. For Sessions you go to Federal Court, then they ask her to plea bargain?

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Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

I met Cathy in Cambridge when she spoke at MIT a few years ago. This is  re-posted from Naked Capitalism.  Cathy’s whole TED Talk can be watched after the fold.

Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

Cathy O’Neil has a PhD in mathematics from Harvard and is the author of the best seller Weapons of Math Destruction. She is also involved in Occupy Wall Street.

In this TED talk, she describes how algorithms routinely institutionalize bias, bad practices, and personal opinion. Worse, the “gee whiz” factor of technology and the difficulty lay people have in forcing the algorithm creators to make their assumptions and processes transparent, and allow for audits of their algorithms, makes them an all-too-easy way to reinforce and legitimate skewed power dynamics.

One part of her talk, on how hiring practices reinforce existing “success” models, which often have embedded biases, is consistent with our 2007 Conference Board Review article, Fit v. Fitness.

Algorithms are everywhere. They sort and separate the winners from the losers. The winners get the job or a good credit card offer. The losers don’t even get an interview or they pay more for insurance. We’re being scored with secret formulas that we don’t understand that often don’t have systems of appeal. That begs the question: What if the algorithms are wrong?

To build an algorithm you need two things: you need data, what happened in the past, and a definition of success, the thing you’re looking for and often hoping for. You train an algorithm by looking, figuring out. The algorithm figures out what is associated with success. What situation leads to success?

Actually, everyone uses algorithms. They just don’t formalize them in written code. Let me give you an example. I use an algorithm every day to make a meal for my family. The data I use is the ingredients in my kitchen, the time I have, the ambition I have, and I curate that data. I don’t count those little packages of ramen noodles as food.

(Laughter)

My definition of success is: a meal is successful if my kids eat vegetables. It’s very different from if my youngest son were in charge. He’d say success is if he gets to eat lots of Nutella. But I get to choose success. I am in charge. My opinion matters. That’s the first rule of algorithms.

Algorithms are opinions embedded in code. It’s really different from what you think most people think of algorithms. They think algorithms are objective and true and scientific. That’s a marketing trick. It’s also a marketing trick to intimidate you with algorithms, to make you trust and fear algorithms because you trust and fear mathematics. A lot can go wrong when we put blind faith in big data.

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Reducing the Gender Disparity in Incarceration: A Thought Experiment

According to the latest figures, 93.3% of federal prisoners are men. The male to female incarceration rate is also wildly lopsided in state and county facilities, and to my knowledge, pretty much everywhere else in the world. I also am unable to think of a single example where there is reason to believe that women outnumber men in jails and prisons. Furthermore, I don’t see any particular reason why incarcerated men will not continue to outnumber incarcerated women as long as there are prisons or people.

Before I go on with this thought experiment, allow me to provide full disclosure. I was born and raised and continue to be a male. My parents and my wife are willing to corroborate the details should anyone wish to delve more deeply. It is also relevant to note that the only incarceration facility whose inside I have seen in real life is the Alcatraz, but it was decommissioned as a prison well before I was born.

Now, despite my male identification and my desire to remain unincarcerated, I have no problems whatsoever with the lopsided ratio of men v. women in our prisons and jails. I think there’s a good reason for the ratio to be what it is. (If you want to argue that there are too many, or too few guests of the state, that’s a different issue outside the scope of this post.) I suspect most of us are better off with the male to female incarceration ratio being in the ballpark of what it is. See, it turns out that men commit more crime than women. A lot more crime. And a lot more violent crime. That not only is true today, it has been true for as long as there is has been a concept of crime.

Does it diminish me as a guy to state that fact – that men are far more likely to be criminals than women – baldly? Not as far as I can see. How am I being hurt by the fact that men are incarcerated more frequently than women? Well, provided I am not one of those men engaging in crime, not much, if at all.  I am more likely to get the  jaundiced eye from any random law enforcement officer, which in turn may mean less I am more likely to be searched, and possibly even falsely suspected of crimes than a randomly selected woman.  I note that I also benefit, to some extent, from the fact that men like me are watched more carefully than women like my wife.  After all, men are not just disproportionately the perpetrators of most crimes.  They are also disproportionately represented among the victims of many crimes, particularly most violent crimes such as murder.  But I suspect that the effect of men being subject to extra scrutiny (or worse) is not large enough to put a dent in the ratio of crimes committed by men v. the crimes committed by women.

The converse is also true –  I don’t see much gain to the women from the fact that men are more likely to be more incarcerated than women.   Nor does the gender difference in incarceration affect the likelihood of any single individual ending up in jail.

But the fact that men are more likely to commit crimes does have real world effects. Anecdotally (and autoethnographically?), every time I share an elevator with a woman I don’t know, I make an effort to stay glued to the wall, and I do my best to look non-threatening. Why? Well, common courtesy. Because women do have something to fear from being in an enclosed space with a guy they don’t know. And I would hope that if enough people behave with common courtesy, the women in my life will also get the benefit of such courtesy from men they don’t know when they find themselves on an elevator.

Note that threats can appear from everywhere.  Men also can be attacked by women, but crime statistics indicate that a man has less to fear from a woman he doesn’t know than vice versa. That said, while I have noticed the “unthreatening” look on many men’s faces and posture on an elevator, I don’t believe I have ever seen it on a woman. Perhaps if a woman were to do so it might come across, to the wrong man, as a show of weakness and invite violence.  There are, after all, a not insignificant number of dangerous men out there.

Beyond the elevator situation, there are also some other courtesies I extend to women that I don’t extend to men. As one example, if I am walking behind a woman who is wearing a skirt and she begins walking up stairs, I will hang back until she is well up the stairs before continuing up myself. Alternatively, I will move quickly, taking the stairs three at a tie to get around her. As far as I know, it isn’t illegal for a guy to walk up a flight or two of stairs with his eyes staring straight ahead buttocks-level. But it also isn’t hard to noodle out that doing so would make many women uncomfortable. So once again, a small change of behavior qualifies as common courtesy.

But let’s get back to incarceration rates. Let us say it became perceived as unfair that more men are incarcerated than women. Perhaps a situation arises where people would insist there is no real difference between female and male behavior, and if there is a difference in incarceration outcomes, it must be due to society imposing an extra burden on males. That might lead to society seeking to arrive at a 50-50 incarceration ratio between men and women.

Of course, that would be a commendable social goal if the commission of the types of crimes that lead to incarceration were equal among men and women. But what if the crime ratio was still lopsided as the one we observe today? In that case, to achieve incarceration parity, we would have two options. One would be to release 86 male prisoners for every 93 men that are currently incarcerated. Another would be to incarcerate an extra 86 female prisoners for every 7 women who are currently incarcerated. (Technically, we could do something between the two scenarios, but I will ignore that option for that essay.)

Neither of those ways of achieving a 50-50 balance is healthy. The first will lead to letting out a lot of people who probably belong in jail, which will result in more crime against innocent victims. The second option leads to incarcerating a lot of people who shouldn’t be in jail. Leaving aside how we collectively decide which innocent women should be incarcerated in order to achieve the desired balance, there will be a huge personal cost on many women (and their families). It will also hurt the economy in the process.

If there is no observed change in the Male to Female ratio of criminality, a substantial change in the incarceration ratio is more likely to cause quite a bit harm than good. To change the male incarceration rate without causing harm, the male criminality rate must also be reduced.

But there is also one other fact to consider.  A world in which a) serious crimes are committed by males in wildly disproportionate rates, and b) society was seeking to achieve a 50-50 incarceration rate  will have little or no serious discussion about point a.  After all, admitting that criminals are disproportionately male (which is a very different thing than stating that all or even most males are criminals) is also an admission that the desired incarceration rate is hard to achieve.  Worse, looking into why the crime rate is so much higher among men and women could lead to the unfortunate conclusion that the only way to achieve social goals is for the justice system to come down on women much harder than it comes down on men.  This is a hard conclusion to stomach, and it leads to cognitive dissonance since the whole point of 50-50 incarceration is, presumably, to make society more fair.  And really, there is only one way to deal with cognitive dissonance:  a mountain of self-righteous outrage would be heaped on anyone who pointed out the mutual contradictions or why they exist.  It is hard to imagine a world where points a and b are simultaneously true, but with a bit of effort most of us could probably come up with its broad outlines.

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Missouri Travel Advisory

At a conference on Wednesday, National delegates voted to adopt the advisory for Missouri It is the first time the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a state. The “extreme caution” notification is not exclusive to high crime areas such as may be found in cities. The notification is meant to make minorities more aware of surroundings while traveling in Missouri and to be cautious with encounters with police. What is sad about this is it is telling minorities do not give the white man any reason to take issue with you such as what you wear, being in a heavily white populated areas, a broken tail light, not signaling, rolling stops or going through lights on the yellow, etc. Jim Crow has emerged again and heavy force will be applied to put you into the role expected of you.

The advisory is as follows:

(Jefferson City, MO – Missouri NAACP State Conference Office – edited) Unlike seasonal weather advisories where unnecessary travel on city streets or parking might be directed; the NAACP wants to make Missourians and visitors alike aware of a looming danger which could include the following examples of what has happened to some residents and visitors in the past.

– Tory Sanford was never arrested and yet died in a jail cell. He ran out of gas when he traveled into the state accidentally.
– On campus racist attacks on University of Missouri students after the university system spoke in favor of Romine’s Jim Crow Bill.
– Black high school students in St. Louis have been attacked with hot glue and racially denigrated.
– Two foreign born men were gunned down in Kansas City after their killer thought them to be Muslim.
– African Americans are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched than Caucasians according to the Missouri Attorney General.
– Public threats of shooting ‘Blacks’ by an alleged racist and others have terrorized University of Missouri students and members of the public.

Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION. Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri. The home of Lloyd Gaines, Dredd Scott, and the Missouri Compromise gives Missouri the distinction of being one of the last states to lose its slaveholding past.

The Missouri State Conference of the NAACP will follow Governor Greitien’s review of this Jim Crow Bill – SB 43 and will update the NAACP advisory for the State of Missouri if this measure is vetoed. SB 43 legalizes individual discrimination and harassment in Missouri and would prevent individuals from protecting themselves from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in Missouri.

Moreover, overzealous enforcement of routine traffic violations in Missouri against African-Americans has resulted in an increasing trend and has resulted in increased traffic fines, senseless searches of vehicle and persons, and on occasion unnecessary violence.

The advisory is in effect until August 28.

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Rampant judicial activism

Via Slate by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

The Clarence Thomas takeover

But Thomas is more than just the Trump administration’s philosophical hero. His once-fringy ideas are suddenly flourishing—not only on the high court, through his alliance with Gorsuch, but also in the executive branch.

Everywhere you turn in Trumpland, you’ll find a slew of Thomas’ former clerks in high places. They are serving in the White House counsel’s office(Greg Katsas, John Eisenberg, David Morrell); awaiting appointment to the federal judiciary (Allison H. Eid, David Stras); leading the departments of the Treasury (Heath P. Tarbert, Sigal Mandelker) and Transportation (Steven G. Bradbury); defending the travel ban in court (Jeffrey Wall); and heading the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (Neomi Rao). Thomas clerks are also working with dark money groups to execute Trump’s agenda (Carrie Severino) and boosting him in the far-right media (Laura Ingraham).

At the precise moment in which the more than 120 vacancieson the federal courts may be the only reason for conservatives to hold their noses and stand by Trump, it’s Clarence Thomas who stands as a living embodiment of wars already won and triumphs yet to come.

Via Buzzflash by Mark Karlin:


Under the Radar, Trump Is Packing the Federal Judiciary With Right-Wingers

Over the past few decades, Republicans have demonstrated that they understand the long-term implications of creating an activist federal judiciary and using every trick in the book and sheer power plays to confirm right-wing nominees. Meanwhile, the Democrats appear to generally be content to play by the Senate rules and not put a full-court press on getting Democratic presidential nominees placed on the various levels of the federal bench. In this sense, Gorsuch is just the tip of the pyramid. Progressives are mostly ignoring all the federal judges confirmed by the GOP at other levels — to great peril.

Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for The New Yorker, wrote yesterday of the GOP’s high-intensity push to get its federal appointees seated — as compared to the Democratic senators when they are responsible for federal court nominees:

Trump has also benefited from the greater interest that conservatives, as compared with liberals, have shown in federal judicial appointments at all levels. Republicans simply care more than Democrats do about getting their people on to the bench. Illustrating the varying priorities of the two parties, Allan Smith, of Business Insider, compared the first six months of judicial appointments under Obama and Trump. Smith found that, in this period, Trump nominated eighteen people for district-judgeship vacancies, and fourteen for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims. During that same period in Obama’s first term, he nominated just four district judges and five appeals-court judges. In total, when U.S. Attorneys are included, Trump nominated fifty-five people, and Obama just twenty-two. Obama’s attention was, undoubtedly, distracted by a global economic implosion in 2009, but his party had a greater majority in the Senate than Trump’s does now, and still Obama failed to push through more than a handful of judges in that period.

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“We Need You to Cooperate . . .”

Go to 1:30 minutes into this clip and please watch the whole event.

Jail and/or prison is not a fun experience and it was never meant to be. People are taken there for court determined reasons. I have heard my share of stories from reliable sources of what goes on there and how some who are charged with guarding the population take it to the next level. There is much talk about prison reform and I applaud the thought of it. However, the action must come before people even get into jail or prison.

85% of all cases are plea bargained. In some instances a person signs away their right to appeal a conviction because of a plea bargain. The AEDPA also makes it difficult for a federal court to rule on, reverse a state court’s decision, or remand back to state courts for a different ruling.

The man in the later part of this is suing Cheatham County Correction Deputies of deprivation of civil rights, citing the use of excessive force and failure to protect after he was repeatedly Tasered in the jail. I guess this goes along with Trump telling the police not to be so gentle with suspects.

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