Monday, March 9, 2015

Selma and Tim Scott

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., an honorary co-chairman of the Selma trip and the only African-American Republican in the Senate, said voting rights and the commemoration of Selma should be “de-coupled.”
“The issue of voting rights legislation and the issue of Selma, we ought to have an experience that brings people together and not make it into a political conversation,” Scott said.

So in other words "Stop making civil rights commemorations about civil rights!  This is supposed to be an empty, meaningless photo-op for me."

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'm pretty sure this is just another overblown fake GOP manufactured "scandal" but I looked up the history of the domain and it was originally registered in 2009 by Justin Cooper, an adviser to Bill CLinton who, according to wikipedia, "began working in the White House as an intern in the Office of Science and Technology Policy and later in the Oval Office. He was later hired as a Staff Assistant for Oval Office Operations." Today it's registration info is shielded by a middleman company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. Not anything revelatory, but I hadn't seen that detail reported yet so I figured I'd write a quick post about it. I also noticed a traceroute dies at a router, a company which provides " bandwidth infrastructure services, including dark fiber, wavelengths, SONET, Ethernet, IP services, and carrier-neutral colocation and interconnection.".

Cooper, Justin
   care of Network Solutions
   PO Box 459
   Drums, PA.  US  18222


   Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
      Cooper, Justin  Email Masking
      care of Network Solutions
      PO Box 459
      Drums, PA 18222

   Record expires on 13-Jan-2014.
   Record created on 13-Jan-2009.
   Database last updated on 30-Jan-2013 12:37:38 EST.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

He was great in the Star Trek Pilot, but....

via TPM - Michael Carvin, the attorney arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case, said this challenge is different because the argument against the law centers on a statute that was "written by white women and minorities."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Anti-vaxxers and the 2016 Presidential Election

I find it interesting that on most political blogs i read, even far right wingers aren't popping up to defend the anti-vaxxers against the tyranny of gubmint overreach. That tells me even
the vast majority of serious movement conservatives see this as craziness. But the GOP presidential clown show are still feeling pressure to flip-fop and give vague answers on whether they support mandatory vaccinations. So i expect this to be the first of many issues in the 2016 campaign where the GOP field is forced to take crazy positions 70 or 80% of americans disagree with to satisfy the fringiest right wing litmus tests during the primaries. And that's once again gonna kill 'em in the general. Especially if they end up running one of the real nutjobs instead of a bush or walker type.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Email for the Maryland Attorney General about Serial

I'm writing to express my concern regarding the 1999 murder conviction of Adnan Syed, which has been the focus of the recent NPR podcast Serial.  Although his guilt or innocence remain unknown, it is clear that there were multiple, serious problems with the evidence, prosecution misconduct (including attempts to coach and intimidate a witness), prosecution witness perjury and ineffective counsel.  It's abundantly clear that these issues necessitate approval of the appeal and the State should not oppose the motion.  I strongly urge your office to address this matter and allow the appeal to go forward.

Monday, October 6, 2014

What is Affirmative Consent?

So Jerry Brown just signed SB-967, the Student Safety: Sexual Assault Bill, into law in California. There's been a good deal of reporting recently on widespread problems at colleges and universities in how they deal with rape and assault and I'm the first to acknowledge those problems. There's a
culture of acceptance at best or tacit approval at worst of sexual assault on campuses, and in many cases faculty and staff would rather ignore it than address it. So legislation to reform the system and protect victims is certainly needed and welcome.

And that brings us to the current bill, which basically requires every school to enact and Affirmative Consent sexual assault policy to receive any state of federal funds. The affirmative consent standard is usually defined as requiring the each person engaging in sexual activity to obtain active affirmative, voluntary agreement to sexual activity. Which sounds great. Of course affirmative consent should be required. But when it comes to criminal legal matters the details are critical and that's where California's new law is problematic. The relevant text reads:

(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.
This law requires "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement" but never defines what constitutes such agreement to satisfy the legal requirement. It tells you what does NOT constitute consent, including lack of protest, silence or an ongoing dating relationship. OK. But what DOES constitute affirmative consent? A yes, a nod, a smile? And further complicating things is the requirement for ongoing consent throughout the sexual activity. Again, what exactly is required? Does an initial verbal consent mean that less definitive physical cues are sufficient going forward? Or must both parties pause every 10 minutes to obtain updated verbal consent? 

This may seem like petty carping because everyone KNOW what consent means. But in legal matters of such import, "just knowing" isn't enough. This law creates questions and confusion with arbitrary and undefined requirements to avoid being guilty of rape. Amanda Marcotte defends this ambiguity saying "The law has no bearing on the vast majority of sexual encounters. It only applies when a student files a sexual assault complaint". To which Jonathan Chait responds "So the law will not come into play because nobody will actually try to enforce it. Instead, it will technically deem a large proportion of sexual encounters to be rape, but prosecutors will only enforce it if there is an accusation. And since most, and possibly nearly all, sexual encounters will legally be rape, then accusation will almost automatically result in conviction... What percentage of the last decade worth of Hollywood sex scenes, if acted out between college students in California, would technically constitute rape? A majority? Ninety percent? Deprogramming and reorienting societal ideas about sex is an evolutionary process. California isn't merely attempting to set out to nudge the culture in this direction. It is reclassifying all sex that falls outside those still-novel ideas as rape. A law premised on this sort of sweeping, wholesale change is likely to fail." I have to say I find Chait's argument more compelling.

So again, reform and new laws to deal with sexual assault are both needed and welcome.  An Affirmative Consent law of some form is a great idea.  But those laws must be clear, well defined and specific in their requirements.  I don't think California's new law reaches those bars.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Inflation, UNH! AH! What is it good for? Absolutely..... a few things actually.

Oh, inflation, you bane of existence.  You Weimar Zimbabwean destroyer of worlds, bringing terror into the souls of central bankers.  Why can't you be vanquished by our modern economy?  Well, the reason is that we (meaning not crazy people who study economics) want moderate inflation.  You may have heard talk of the Federal Reserve targeting 2% inflation and thought "why don't they target 0% inflation?  inflation is terrible".  And in fact so had I wondered in the past.  The reasons are complicated (as macro economics generally is, despite what some might tell you about it being just like a household budget.  it's not.), and as a non-economist I only have a limited understanding of them all.  But I'll try to run through the basics here based on my limited knowledge.First off, what is inflation?  Via Wikipedia: " inflation is a sustained increase in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.[1] When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services. Consequently, inflation reflects a reduction in the purchasing power per unit of money – a loss of real value in the medium of exchange and unit of account within the economy."

One of the great knocks on inflation is it degrades buying power. And of course this is true, and out of control inflation can cause severe price instability and lots of secondary economic problems and governments can get caught in an inflation spiral trying to print their way out of the crisis.  But in modern times and advanced economies this just hasn't happened in close to a century.  That's why the ever fearful inflation hawks have to point back to the Weimar Republic of the 1920's and war torn, third world, Zimbabwe to support their ever present screams of "HYPER INFLATION IS
COMING"!  To ignore the past is to be destined to repeat it.  But to ignore present realities leaves one living in the past instead of dealing with current reality.  The fact is the Fed and the rest of the major central banks around the world understand monetary economic theory, act mostly independently of short term political influence and have kept inflation well controlled for decades through many economic cycles and disruptions.  We're simply not living in a world where the USA needs to live in fear of hyper-inflation.  And of course the facts on the ground, despite the tearful cries from the Wall Street Journal and various other right wing, supply side economists, bear this out.  If you listened to them the last 6 years, and bet on soaring inflation and worthless treasury bonds, you'd have lost a lot of money.

But I digress.  Let look at why low to moderate inflation is desirable.  First off, consider a bank that's made a loan, such as a student loan.  With 0% inflation, the value of the loan payments in terms of purchasing power are constant of say 20 years.  As a net lender, the bank likes this.  If there's some inflation, the bank is losing real value on it's asset.  But remember, for every lender there's a debtor.  The student who took the loan graduates, gets a job and starts paying.  Inflation means this new worker is likely to get raises every year that meet or exceed inflation.  So for the young worker, real purchasing power stays stable or grows while debt service shrinks.  This is good for the debtor.    Now you might think "ok, so it's a wash.  one side wins, the other loses".  In a microecon sense this is true, but in a macro econ sense it is not necessarily true.  The debtor and lender are in different economic positions.  A young single college graduate is going to be constrained balance sheet constrained in their spending due to large college debt, while a bank very likely is not so constrained.  Particularly in a weak economy, such as now, banks and other large institutions are awash in cash with no place to spend it.   So in terms of effect on spending and GDP, helping a balance sheet constrained individual vs a lending institution with a strong balance sheet will lead to a better macroeconomic outcome.

The second reason why inflation is useful, especially during a demand driven recession, is it can pull spending forward.  Meaning, if the real value of your money is going to decrease over time, you are incetivized to make purchases today.  So I buy a car and GM builds a new production plant this year instead of next year when it will cost us both more.  This is particularly true for buyers who are holding under utilized cash, which is exactly the people you want spending in a recession which can otherwise lead to hoarding resources out of uncertainty.

Third, when economies try to adjust to a recession there are two "stickiness" problems.  First there's downward wage stickiness and the Zero Lower Bound on interest rates.  Downward wage stickiness means that both employees and employers are very resistant to wage cuts, even in a negative inflation environment where technically a nominal cut would equal no change in real compensation (people are not rational economic actors and anyone who tells you different is wrong).  The ZLB refers to situation when the short-term nominal interest rate is at or near zero, causing a liquidity trap and limiting the capacity that the central bank has to stimulate economic growth.  In other words,the Fed's monetary policy loses efficacy because they can't cut rates below 0%.  Inflation solves both these problems, allowing wages to adjust without nominal cuts and the real interest rate ( nominal rate - inflation) to go negative. 

Now, I'm probably missing lots of things and failing to explain or even understand some of the intricacies on this, but that's as good as it gets from me.  If you want a more professional opinion, go read a not rambling drunk.