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Bye Bye Corey

Good riddance to bad rubbish:

Angela Corey, a state attorney in northeast Florida who investigated the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and prosecuted Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot during a domestic dispute, lost the Republican primary on Tuesday for 4th circuit judicial state attorney.

Melissa Nelson, a corporate lawyer and former prosecutor, claimed 64% of the vote over Corey’s 26% in the fourth circuit, which oversees Jacksonville, Fla. Nelson will face Kenny Leigh, a write-in candidate who runs a men’s only law firm, in the general election.

Corey, you may remember, initially did not prosecute George Zimmerman after he invoked Florida’s “stand your ground” law. She then changed her mind in the wake of political pressure but failed to get a conviction. She also came under fire for the Marissa Alexander case, where she refused to accept a “stand your ground” defense from a woman defending herself from an abusive boyfriend and got a judge to hand down a 20-year prison sentence (it was later reduced to three years).

That’s just the beginning. Corey has been one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the nation when it comes to charging juveniles as adults and seeking the death penalty in questionable cases. When criticized for her handling of cases, she’s had a tendency to lash out, famously threatening Alan Dershowitz when he criticized her charging of George Zimmerman.

Corey is just the latest prosecutor to go down in flames. Earlier this year, Chicago voters ousted Anita Alvarez for sitting on the Laquan McDonald case and Cleveland voters ditched Tim McGinity for his handling of the Tamir Rice case. This is unusual to say the least. Prosecutors rarely get unelected. But they’re now becoming the targets of unelection campaigns. Whatever one may think of these three prosecutors, I’m glad to see people paying more attention. It’s about time that “lock ‘em up, let God sort em out” stopped being an automatic ticket to power.

And Now Gene Wilder

Oh, come on, 2016. Gene Wilder too?

I couldn’t find any great clips from the 1968 version of The Producers, which is one of the most brilliant comedies ever made. But here’s a great clip from Blazing Saddles

The thing I loved about Wilder was how well he played off of other actors. Great comedies are collaborative and Wilder was one of the best comedy collaborators ever, working with geniuses like Zero Mostel, Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor to create truly great comedy. His work with Mostel is what makes the first Producers so brilliant. The way he played off Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles or Mary Feldman in Young Frankenstein or Richard Pryor was dazzling to behold.

Wilder mostly retired after Gilda Radner died but did occasionally pop up in such things as guest spots in Will and Grace. He will be missed.

The Lost Opportunity

I was asked the other day what the worst aspect of the Trump candidacy is. And after thinking about it, I decided that the worst part may be the lost opportunity.

Republicans went into 2016 with a majority in both houses, a majority of state houses, a majority of governorships and a golden opportunity to defeat a weak, compromised Democratic presidential candidate. Had they nominated someone like Rubio (maybe not him specifically, but someone of that ilk), they wouldn’t be fearing an electoral disaster but wondering just how big his landslide would be.

But its worse than that.

Over the last few months, Speaker Ryan has been rolling out his agenda called “A Better Way”. It has detailed Republican plans for addressing national security, poverty, the economy, Constitutional law, health care and taxes. While I disagree with some of its points, it’s a massively superior agenda to the Far Left nonsense that Clinton has been rolling out.

This is precisely what I’ve wanted the GOP to do for years: not to just oppose Democrats, but to propose a positive alternative agenda; to give people something to vote for. A decent candidate using this agenda would be absolutely crushing Clinton and building toward a 1994 style revolution. And let’s remember, that revolution resulted in a balanced budget, a booming economy and a huge decline in poverty.

This is the worst part of Trump. Trump himself has no policies. He seems to just parrot whatever has been whispered in his ear most recently. Maybe if he were elected, he’d enact parts of the Better Way, but I doubt it. As it is, however, his personality and lack of managerial skill is dooming the GOP, possibly to minority status.

I really hope the GOP can regroup in 2020. Because if it’s a choice between the GOP’s “Better Way” and the Democrats Marxism Light, I know which bodes for a better future.

The Clinton Foundation

This week, AP ran a story alleging that about half of the people outside government who met with Clinton when she was Secretary of State had donated to the Clinton Foundation. This is on top of reports that donors to the Clinton Foundation mysteriously mysteriously earned lucrative contracts from the State Department under Clinton’s tenure. There is no smoking gun at this point; no proof of an explicit quid pro quo. But there is an awful lot of smoke.

The response of the Left Wing has been … astonishing. They have basically been writing pieces all week that are little more than wrappers for the Clinton campaign’s press release. Their claims are basically:

  • The AP deceptively focused on only 154 of Clinton’s thousands of meetings during her tenure. This talking point is garbage. AP deliberately excluded people with whom Clinton would have met anyway as Secretary of State (some of whom, incidentally, were also big Foundation donors). Moreover, the State Department has refused to release large parts of Clinton’s schedule. The AP worked with what they had.
  • There is no explicit proof of a quid-pro-quo.. True enough. But the Left Wing knows perfectly God-damned well that this is not how corruption works. Government corruption does not work like it does in movies with smoke-filled rooms, cackling fat men and suitcases full of cash. What the Foundation donors are alleged to have been buying is access. And a group of people who have spent the last six years screaming and wringing their hands over Citizens United should understand that.
  • The Clinton Foundation is an A-rated charity and puts 88% of its money into good causes. I’m a bit dubious of the charity rater they are citing, who seems a bit too enthusiastic. But even assuming this, that’s kind of beside the point. I’m sure the Clinton Foundation does do a lot of good — $2 billion will do that. That does not mean that donating to it isn’t the best way to get the Clintons’ time and attention. It does not mean that its money can’t be directed toward certain organizations and causes. That the Foundation does good and the Clintons are corrupt are not mutually exclusive possibilities.
  • Republicans don’t face this level of scrutiny.. As the Intercept points out, this is bullshit. Non-profits associated with John McCain, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush have come under fire for similar incidents. Just because you haven’t been paying attention doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Honestly, it’s pathetic. So pathetic that Vox had to run an article where four experts carefully explained to them why these allegations are so troubling.

Clinton Derangement Syndrome is a thing. There are certainly people who are driven to madness by the Clintons and see everything they do in the worst possible light. But Clinton Defense Derangement Syndrome is also a thing. There are people who continually insist that all the allegations about the Clintons are baseless right-wing smears. Hell, there are people who still insist that Whitewater — which resulted in forty felony convictions — was a whole lot of nothing. To these people, the Clintons are wonderful do-gooders who have endured 25 years of baseless persecution.

(Left unanswered by the Clinton defenders is this: if the Clinton scandals are all Republican dementia and invented nonsense, why have we seen nothing like this with Obama? The Republican hatred of Obama is arguably deeper than their hatred of Clinton. And they’ve tried to pin some stuff on him sure. But they’ve never gotten anywhere with it. The IRS scandal fizzled and ended up focusing on Lois Lerner. The gunwalking scandal fizzled. Benghazi ended up focusing on Clinton (and fizzled). Even the VA scandal fizzled. The most they could come up with from his pre-Presidency days was Jeremiah Wright/Bill Ayers which no one outside of Fox News cared about. They’ve made a lot of noise and tried to get something going, but we’ve not seen them gain the kind of traction they did with Whitewater or Lewinski. And while the media arguably runs interference for Obama, it’s peanuts compared to the interference they run for Clinton. Obama’s been in office for eight years without any felony convictions, impeachment proceedings or perjury. The vast majority of criticism is focused on his policies, not his ethics. Doesn’t this suggest that there may be at least something to the idea that the Clintons are a bit slimy?)

Now I wouldn’t go as far as some pundits have in describing the Clinton Foundation as a criminal organization. The money it dispenses actually goes to good causes, such as providing anti-malarial drugs in Africa and disaster relief in Haiti and Indonesia. It’s also burned money on a lot of dubious liberal initiatives like “sustainability” and patting do-gooders on the back. Overall, I suspect it’s fine … on its terms.

But I also think it’s highly likely that it’s become a nexus of Clinton influence, with donations to the Foundation catching the attention of the Clintons and occasionally largesse from the government. It’s not nothing. And I wish the media would quit pretending that it is.

The Latest Trump Flop

I can’t say I’m surprised that Trump has now flipped his opinion on immigration, now supporting a plan that is not a mile distant from the plans promoted by Rubio and Bush, which he previously denounced as amnesty. In fact, his speech on this change used many of the exact same words Bush used (this isn’t amnesty, they will pay back taxes, etc.). Trump has no deeply held positions; he has a series of publicity stunts. And now that he’s down in the polls, he’s trying to tack left to pick up votes from moderates. Or, equally likely, pick up wavering conservatives who were bothered by his rhetoric on immigration.

What makes this really delightful, however, is that he did this on the same day that Ann Coulter released her latest book “In Trump We Trust”. Coulter has been having a fit over on Twitter. Viz:

If Trump did this just to fuck with Coulter, I may have to reassess my opinion of the man. That would be Olympic caliber trolling.

The Nearest Earth

Well, it’s 24 trillion miles away, but at least we now have somewhere to go once Clintrump send us on a spiral of doom:

In this golden age of exoplanetary science the announcement of a planet 30% more massive than the Earth, in an 11.2 day orbit around a low-mass star with a luminosity 0.15% of the Sun’s would usually elicit little more than a raised eyebrow.

Except for the fact that this world orbits the nearest star to ours; Proxima Centauri.

It means that at a cosmically trifling 24 trillion miles (4.243 light years) from where you are at this instant is an alien system with a planet that could conceivably harbor life as we know it. That planet is estimated to be around 4.9 billion years old, it receives about 65% of the Earth’s stellar irradiation, and its skies – whatever else is in them – are bathed in the red-hued rays of a diminutive star only 12% the mass of our Sun.
Say hello to the closest truly alien world.

The planet was discovered by the very small doppler shift its orbit induces in Proxima Cen. Way back in 1993, I did a presentation in my astrophysics class in which I claimed that this was the best approach to finding extrasolar planets. My professor — who was and is a good friend and a brilliant man — thought I was crazy, that we would never be able to measure doppler shift precisely enough to find Earth-like planets. So every time we do find one this way, I still feel a little thrill of vindication.

There are actually plans to send a probe to a nearby world. Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner is funding a program to send a tiny probe at a significant fraction of the speed of light to a nearby star. It would be a very quick visit. But talking with my exoplanet colleagues this summer, it sounds like he’s serious and this could be done. The main hurdle to be overcome is how to pack it with enough power to transmit a signal back to Earth.

The more we look at the universe, the more ubiquitous we find planets to be. So I’m not entirely surprised by this. The universe is teeming with planets and the number of potentially habitable planets almost certainly numbers in the billions. If we live long enough, we will see a space telescope get a spectrum of a nearby planet’s atmosphere. And then it’s only a matter of time until we find a signal of life in another star system.

In the meantime, let’s hope we one day get off our butts and get moving. The universe is at our doorstep.

All the Rents That Shall Be Paid

The taxi business has been one sweet gig for corrupt city leaders. Taxis pay enormous fees for medallions in order to be officially licensed. The city, in turn, helps them establish a monopoly so that poor service, high fees and a refusal to go to certain areas of town don’t cost them market share.

Uber and Lyft have challenged this status quo. So what do you do?

How about make them pay blood money to taxi cartel?

Massachusetts is preparing to levy a 5-cent fee per trip on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft and spend the money on the traditional taxi industry, a subsidy that appears to be the first of its kind in the United States.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the nickel fee into law this month as part of a sweeping package of regulations for the industry.

Ride services are not enthusiastic about the fee.

“I don’t think we should be in the business of subsidizing potential competitors,” said Kirill Evdakov, the chief executive of Fasten, a ride service that launched in Boston last year and also operates in Austin, Texas.

Some taxi owners wanted the law to go further, perhaps banning the start-up competitors unless they meet the requirements taxis do, such as regular vehicle inspection by the police.

The law levies a 20-cent fee in all, with 5 cents for taxis, 10 cents going to cities and towns and the final 5 cents designated for a state transportation fund.

The fee may raise millions of dollars a year because Lyft and Uber alone have a combined 2.5 million rides per month in Massachusetts.

Does anyone, does anyone think this fee will stay at 20 cents a ride? Anyone? In the back there? No? You with the beard? Yeah, didn’t think so.

And that’s a Republican governor who signed this piece of garbage. You almost have to admire the brazenness of it. This isn’t regulating Uber like a taxi service, which you could at least argue levels the playing field (although it really doesn’t). This is forcing an innovator to subsidize their rival. It is as if we’d taxed Netflix and given the money to Blockbuster.

The Public Option Returneth

With the collapse of the Obamacare exchange markets imminent, the Left Wing is calling for the return of the “public option”. The public option would be a single-payer system run by the government that would “compete” with private insurance, supposedly without subsidies to make things fair. According to the Left Wing, this is “only way” to return competition to the Obamacare exchanges, many of which have shrunk down to a single insurer.

It’s all lies. They know it’s all lies. That entire paragraph above can be exploded with two words: state lines.

For years, the Republicans have advocated that health insurance be sold across state lines, rather than within fifty restricted markets. The reason is very simple: in many states, there is no competition for insurance. In Alabama, for example, Blue Cross is a virtual monopoly, controlling 90% of the private insurance market. Allowing insurance to be sold across state lines would allow at least the big insurers and preferably dozens to compete in every market in America. It would destroy the virtual monopoly many insurance companies enjoy. It would not be a silver bullet — establishing networks of doctors and hospitals is arduous. But it would help.

Democrats have opposed this, claiming that it would cause a “race to the bottom” as employers sought the worst insurance possible. Apart from the bald cynicism, this is hysterical bullshit. We already have established federal guidelines for minimal insurance standards.

But the public option talk exposes several lies at once. The Democrats claim that the public option would not be subsidized. But the public option has a built in subsidy which is … the ability to be sold across state lines. And I would expect other non-subsidy subsidies to follow suit: forcing doctors to accept it; hiding administrative costs in other parts of the government (as Medicare does); exemption from federal and state regulations that drive up the cost of private insurance.

Obamacare was Stage One of moving us toward a single payer healthcare system. Obama said as much himself. The public option is simply Stage Two. If the Democrats wants single payer, then they should advocate for single payer. I’ll oppose them, but at least that would be honest. The public options is simply an attempt to sneak single payer in through the back door.

The Baltimore Mess

As you may have read, the final charges were dismissed in the Freddie Gray case a few weeks ago, after the first four trials ended in acquittal. What strikes me about the Freddie Gray case is the staggering incompetence of the prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby. In Freddie Gray, we had a man who had not committed a crime, was bound up and tossed in the back of the van and emerged with his neck fatally broken. You would think you could at least get something out of that. But through a series of blunders — concealing exculpatory evidence, overcharging (murder instead of negligent homicide or manslaughter) and other incompetent idiocies, Mosby got nothing. Well, she got her face on TV, which seems to be what mattered most to her.

Mosby is running around insisting that if she’d only had a jury trial, she would have won (ignoring that the first jury deadlocked). She’s wrong:

A prosecutor who evaluates cases based on evidence and appropriately applied laws is actually charged with seeking convictions over justice, not the other way around. Mosby admitted to the nation she was not looking for convictions. The only other explanation was that she was looking to appease the angry citizens of Baltimore.

That would seem noble, except it’s not. Prosecutors have a serious job that comes with serious power. And the way they wield that power is extremely important. Politics and criminal law don’t mix well. That’s been on full display as Mosby’s prosecutors keep spinning wilder legal theories and, not surprisingly, keep getting handed acquittals.

The larger pity of this is that the acquittal overshadows some very serious problems in the Baltimore PD. The Justice Department recently issued the results of its investigation in the BPD. Balko, who calls the DOJ report “the worst I’ve ever seen” goes through it point-by-point. BPD has been told to make large numbers of stops and arrests, regardless of whether someone is committing a crime or not. Unsurprisingly, these arrests are concentrated in a handful of poor black neighborhoods. People are frequently detained, questioned and searched without probable cause (95% of them turn out to have no contraband or outstanding warrants). People have been strip-searched in public without probable cause, arrested without probable cause, made to “justify” their presence in public areas. Of thousands of complaint of excessive force, only a tiny number were investigated and only one resulted in discipline. BPD officers are routinely instructed to use excessive force, including being told to point their guns at people in non-violent situations to exert control.

This passage in particular is just jaw-dropping.

During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a BPD sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. When the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant replied “Then make something up.”

Just so we’re clear, the sergeant not only instructed a subordinate to violate the men’s constitutional rights by concocting a lie, he did so while knowingly in the presence of DOJ monitors. That’s some serious cultural and institutional rot. In another incident, the report describes how several officers detained a man whose only offense was to be in a “high-crime area” with his hands in his pockets. (The DOJ report notes that it happened to be a cold January morning.) After repeated questioning, the officers found a (perfectly legal) kitchen knife in his possession. They then illegally arrested him. When he resisted, they beat and Tased him to the point that he needed medical care. He was never charged with a crime. In his report, the supervising sergeant praised the officers for their “great restraint and professionalism.”

Notorious police-state bootlicker Heather MacDonald posted a response that basically ignored everything in the report. It amounts to, “well, most crimes are committed by black people.” That’s true, but it does not justify routinely detaining, searching, arresting and harassing black people. It does not make standing on a corner being black probable cause. It does not justify ignoring almost all complaints of police brutality and misconduct. This is not either-or. It is perfectly reasonable to note that black people commit an astonishingly high proportion of crimes and that the BPD is engaging in astonishing unconstitutional practices that are tinged with racial bias.

One of the things we have seen is that when riots erupt, there is often a history. That does not justify the riots, obviously, since the riots only do more damage to the community and discredit the cause. But the Rodney King riots erupted after years of complaints about Darryl Gates’ LAPD. The Ferguson riots erupted after years of the city sustaining its unsustainable budget by fining and ticketing the shit out of its black citizenry. This report shows that the Baltimore riots erupted in a city engaging in incredibly aggressive policing that makes its citizens feel under siege.

Balko:

I can’t imagine what it must be like to get stopped by the police 20 or more times every year — to be arrested and jailed for nothing at all, to be stripped nude and searched in public for a traffic offense, or to be told it’s basically illegal for me to merely exist in public. I can’t imagine trying to have a life under those conditions, to raise kids, to just function as a human being — much less rise above my surroundings. I suppose defenders of these tactics will say that black neighborhoods are disproportionately targeted because that’s where most of the crime takes place. I don’t doubt that may be true. But your constitutional rights aren’t determined by the behavior of people who look like you, or by the behavior of the people who live in your neighborhood. Neither should the dignity and humanity afforded to you by the people who are supposed to be protecting you.

This, of course, only makes the riots all the more tragic. Peaceful demonstrations would have done a better job of highlighting these problems without alienating everyone*. But the violence doesn’t change the reality that BPD has a serious problem in its policing.

(*Possibly. The might also, as we’ve seen in several cities, provoked a militarized response anyway.)

Clinton Cash from College

Wow:

Bill Clinton netted $1.6 million last year from a pair of for-profit education companies that caused controversy for the future president during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state.

Laureate Education paid Bill Clinton nearly $1.1 million in 2015, according to tax returns released by his wife’s campaign Friday. GEMS Education, a Dubai-based firm, paid him more than $560,000.

Both companies are major donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Bill Clinton’s lucrative consulting contracts with the corporations have raised questions about how closely his personal fortune is linked to his philanthropic activities.

Not only are both companies donors to the Clinton Foundation, the CEO heads a company that got millions in State Department grants. Over the years, Bill was paid over $15 million to be the honorary chancellor of Laureate.

The moniker “for-profit” colleges is a bit misleading. The problem with “for-profit” colleges is not the profit. All colleges and universities are multi-million or multi-billion dollar operations that pay six figure salaries to their administrators. The President of “non-profit” Harvard, for example, pulled in a cool $900,000 last year. No, the problem is that some of these colleges bring in working and middle-class students, get them to take out massive amounts of federally-backed student loan debt and then give them a poor education. In their way, they are far worse and more insidious than Trump University. John Oliver talks about it here.

In fairness, none of the college singled out by Oliver are part of Laureate. But four of their six US campuses are being monitored by the Department of Education and one of their Chilean campus lost accreditation. Walden University is being sued by a group of people hoping to eventually make a class action. You can read more about the Laureate Scandal here

Don’t let Trump’s awfulness let us forget that the Clintons are pretty awful too. Even if we assume that everything Laureate is doing is peachy, this would still be a scandal for any Republican.