Court Season

The Supreme Court is set to issue a number of landmark ruling this month (saving them for the end of the session, as usual). You can read Doug Mataconis or Evan Bernick for good conservative takes. I’ll do quick hits with how I think the Court will rule and how I think the should rule. And, of course, as each ruling comes down, I’ll put up a post.

The thing about the Roberts Court is that they are very conservative. Not in the political sense, but in the temperamental one. They prefer not to make broad sweeping decisions that upend masses of law and precedent. They tend to defer to legislatures. They like to rule narrowly and specifically. Roberts works very hard to build consensus (see last year’s slew of 9-0 decisions). They have been slow to defend civil liberties except for the First Amendment. So while I expect some landmark decisions, I don’t expect any that will radically reshape the law.

I do expect, however, to hear the losing side of several cases scream that the Court has exercised unprecedented power, set fire to the Constitution and brought plagues of locusts. Whichever side they oppose will be acting in a purely partisan fashion while their side are zealous defenders of the faith. You can decide if that hysteria is warranted.

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All Kansas, No Maryland

All right, here’s a question. Over the last year, we’ve seen innumerable think pieces about the budget crisis in Kansas. To make a long story short, Governor Sam Brownback cut taxes in the state dramatically, claiming that this would stimulate Kansas’ economy and the tax cuts would pay for themselves. It was a poor decision since 1) he didn’t cut spending; 2) Kansas’ taxes and unemployment were already low; 3) tax cuts almost never “pay for themselves”.

But …

In Maryland, Governor Martin O’Malley enacted the Democrats’ dream agenda. He raised the gas tax, the fuel tax, the flush tax, tobacco taxes, individual taxes, taxes on the rich, highways and tolls, hospital taxes, titling taxes, alcohol taxes, millionaires taxes, sales taxes, tip jar taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes — to the tune of billions of dollars. He hiked the minimum wage, made in-state tuition available to illegal immigrants, increased spending on everything.

And the result is a budget disaster that makes Kansas look like small potatoes. A $1.2 billion deficit this year. Hiring freezes at state universities and an economy that is still heavily dependent on federal government contracting.

So where are the headlines at Vox? Where is Mother Jones talking about the failure of Keynesian economics? Where are the think pieces about how you can’t tax your way into prosperity? Why is Brownback’s Kansas a disaster of biblical proportions but O’Malley Maryland is something he can run on for President?

As Lee used to say: oh … that liberal media. Right.

(PS – And it looks like Connecticut is going to be moving into the high tax, huge deficit family as well.)

This should come as a surprise only to people that lack a connection with reality

Those of us that realize that you can’t strike a bargain with the devil and pointed that out as long ago as when Boosh tried to do the same, making the point that any attempt to bargain was futile, are not surprised to find out that Team Obama is being duped and not admitting they are being duped. At least one could believe that if the Booshies figured Iran was duping them, they would lay down the smack. When it comes to Obama however, it almost feels like this administration has done everything to convince Iran to actually build that nuke and have the capability to deliver it (definitely to Israel) while telling us they have put a halt to the program.

Iran is continuing to develop missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons despite an interim agreement on its nuclear programs, according to a Pentagon report.

“Although Iran has paused progress in some areas of its nuclear program and fulfilled its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), it continues to develop technological capabilities that also could be applicable to nuclear weapons, including ballistic missile development,” a one-page unclassified summary of the report says.

A copy of the report was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The report was due to Congress in January but was not sent to the Armed Services Committee as required by law until this month. Analysts said the delay appeared designed to avoid upsetting Tehran and the nuclear talks.

The State Department sought to challenge International Atomic Energy Agency reports on the increase in Iranian nuclear material, despite President Obama’s claim that the nuclear agreement had halted Iran’s nuclear program.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said this week that the increase in nuclear production was expected and that the amount has increased and decreased.

Yeah, sure. It was expected. We are being played by Iran and the WH. When the shit hits the fan, don’t be surprised. Iran is getting all its ducks in a row and will race to create that bomb while the Obama administration fiddles. I hope like what they did back in 1987 to Saddam’s nuclear program that the world will once again end up beholden to Israel when they end Iran’s program as well by any means necessary. The alternative, despite what the morons playing foreign policy experts tell us, is going to be far worse.

A Small Victory

Well, it’s not the complete repeal I’d prefer, but it’s an improvement:

In a significant scaling back of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate on Tuesday approved legislation curtailing the federal government’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records, and President Obama signed the measure hours later.

The legislation signaled a cultural turning point for the nation, almost 14 years after the Sept. 11 attacks heralded the construction of a powerful national security apparatus. The shift against the security state began with the revelation by Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about the bulk collection of phone records. The backlash was aided by the growth of interconnected communication networks run by companies that have felt manhandled by government prying.

The storage of those records now shifts to the phone companies, and the government must petition a special federal court for permission to search them.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for the first time, will be required to declassify some of its most significant decisions, and outside voices will be allowed to argue for privacy rights before the court in certain cases.

So a little more transparency, a small speedbump between the government and our meta-data. By itself, it’s a very tiny win against the gigantic surveillance state President Obama controls.

But the bigger win could be the political victory. The pro-police-state forces threw out their usual apocalyptic rhetoric while they tried to force the Senate to reauthorize the Patriot Act without even a debate. And, for the first time, it didn’t work. Rand Paul, many Democrats and enough Republicans weathered the storm and got some small changes. For the first time, someone in Congress had enough of a spine to call bullshit on their bullshit. And that could pay off down the road:

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Senator Leahy made it clear after passage that curtailing the phone sweeps might be only the beginning. The two are collaborating on legislation to undo a provision in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that allows the government to read the contents of email over six months old. House members and senators from both parties are already eyeing a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that they say has also been abused by the government.

Let’s hope they keep pushing. The surveillance state has legions of supporters. The pushback has begun. It won’t end until we have our basic civil liberties back. And that might take decades.

Baltimore Into the Abyss

Wow:

May was the most lethal month in [Baltimore] in more than 40 years; in per capita terms, it may have been the bloodiest month since recordkeeping began.

There were 43 victims of homicide in the city last month, the most since August 1972, when Baltimore ’s population, now 600,000, was about 900,000. In addition, there were 108 nonfatal shootings in May, nearly triple the number recorded the same month last year. Over the three-day Memorial Day weekend alone, the city recorded 32 shootings and nine homicides.

As Baltimore’s streets succumb to the wave of carnage, the police have simply withdrawn, by many accounts. Harassed, hooted at and openly hated in the wake of the arrest of Freddie Gray, whose death in custody triggered the rioting in April, uniformed officers seem to have decided not to do their jobs.

Arrests, already down from 2014 levels before the rioting, have plummeted by more than 50 percent since then. Community leaders in Sandtown — the area where Mr. Gray was arrested — say there is a deliberate effort on the police department’s part to vacate the streets and see how the community likes it.

On Fox News, one officer, his face and voice obscured, explained the cops’ “reasoning.” “After the protests, it seems like the citizens would appreciate a lack of police presence, and that’s exactly what they’re getting,” he said. He went on to blame the city’s leadership for not having officers’ backs and prosecutors for indicting the six police officers in whose custody Mr. Gray was fatally injured.

This is not unprecedented. Cops in New York engaged in a slowdown after the Eric Garner non-indictment and some subsequent comments by the Mayor.

First thing first: the blame for this surge of violence obviously belongs with the communities. When two cops were assassinated in December, I wrote the following:

I am not an anarchist. We can see around the world how thin the veneer of civilization is and how easily it is destroyed. Law and order are a huge improvement over the lack thereof, no matter how poorly they are enforced. It’s one thing to criticize police and demand reform and changes. It’s one thing to defend yourself if, for example, cops smash down your door in the middle of the night and you have no idea what’s going on. People can and should oppose aggressive policing and the intrusion of government into their lives. But the deliberate and cold-blooded murder of two policemen is an attack on civilization, on the idea of law and order.

The primary problem we have with policing in the United States is not a bunch of evil cops running around. It is a political leadership that has given them a million laws to enforce, authorized an aggressive war on voluntary behavior, shoved assault weapons and tanks into their hands and chipped away at accountability. The system is failing the police as thoroughly as it is failing the rest of us.

I was mocked a bit for my line on attacking civilization, but look at what’s going on in Baltimore right now. Most people are good. Most people — even in the worst part of Baltimore — won’t run around killing and stealing. But you only need a small fraction to be bad for the system to collapse. And now that it has … I’m not sure the genie can be put back in the bottle. This may be the final nail in Baltimore’s coffin.

All that having been said, the idea that the police slowdown was justified by the actions of Baltimore’s Mayor and the prosecution of the six cops is ridiculous. It’s another sign of a police leadership and union leadership that are increasingly isolated from reality. The cops and their union reps have come to expect unwavering and absolute loyalty from political leadership and get extremely agitated when they don’t get it (the link includes an interview with FOP head Jim Pasco. Among other things, he says that people who videotape cops should get 15 years in prison).

After the Freddie Gray incident, the Baltimore cops have been saying that the prosecution is making them “hesitant” and shows that they are being “thrown under the bus” by the mayor and the prosecutor. Balko:

So because a prosecutor has charged the six cops who illegally arrested a man and gave him a “rough ride” in the back of a police van that resulted in his death, all Baltimore cops are now afraid to use force. How does this follow? It would be logical if they were now hesitant to give rough rides — and that of a course would be a good thing. But what happen to Gray shouldn’t impact conscientious Baltimore cops in the slightest. There’s no connection between employing extra-judicial punishment by roughing a suspect up after he’s been arrested and cuffed, and using force to stop a violent person from harming innocent people. To argue that accountability in the former will lead to hesitation in the latter is to argue that we can’t have any accountability for any killing by a police officer, because it may cause other officers to hesitate before shooting people.

We rely on police to keep us from the abyss. But it does not follow that they are unaccountable or that if they truss up a man, throw him in the back of the van and rough ride him around the city until his neck shatters, we should ignore that. To pull back from a city that so desperately needs law and order because of the Freddie Gray indictment or a few nasty words from a mayor is ridiculous. And it illustrates just how badly policing has gone wrong.

Not that there isn’t enough blame to throw the mayor’s way. A competent mayor would be able to condemn the cops who killed Freddie Gray, go forward with the prosecution and still keep the cops on the streets. Balancing the anger of the citizens, the need for reform and temper of the union is the mayor’s job. It’s tough but it’s what they’re elected to do. Even de Blasio’s comments only resulted in cops slowing down “broken windows” arrests. And while murders are up a bit in New York in 2015 (123 through May 28, compared to 107 last year), overall crime is actually down slightly. There has not been nearly the surge in violence we’ve seen in Baltimore. Think about that: Rawlings-Blake is making Bill Fricking de Blasio look competent.

Science Sunday: Chocolate Caper

A few weeks ago, the internet lit up with stories that eating chocolate could help you lose weight. This week, the other shoe dropped: the story was bullshit:

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

The important thing to note here is that they did not fake their results. What they did was use an analysis method that is used by a lot of junk science studies in the arena of health:

Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.

Think of the measurements as lottery tickets. Each one has a small chance of paying off in the form of a “significant” result that we can spin a story around and sell to the media. The more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win. We didn’t know exactly what would pan out—the headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure—but we knew our chances of getting at least one “statistically significant” result were pretty good.

Whenever you hear that phrase, it means that some result has a small p value. The letter p seems to have totemic power, but it’s just a way to gauge the signal-to-noise ratio in the data. The conventional cutoff for being “significant” is 0.05, which means that there is just a 5 percent chance that your result is a random fluctuation. The more lottery tickets, the better your chances of getting a false positive. So how many tickets do you need to buy?

P(winning) = 1 – (1 – p)n

With our 18 measurements, we had a 60% chance of getting some“significant” result with p < 0.05. (The measurements weren’t independent, so it could be even higher.) The game was stacked in our favor.

It’s called p-hacking—fiddling with your experimental design and data to push p under 0.05—and it’s a big problem. Most scientists are honest and do it unconsciously. They get negative results, convince themselves they goofed, and repeat the experiment until it “works.” Or they drop “outlier” data points.

You can see this p-hacking illustrated by XKCD here. A similar hack is sometimes referred to as the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. The idea is that if you run 100 tests, you will very likely find that one of those tests shows a signal that has a 1% chance of being a coincidence. In fact, as Nate Silver pointed out in his book, if you don’t find that about one in a hundred tests produces a spurious 99% result, you’re doing your statistics wrong.

One of the most infamous was a study in the early 90’s showing that high-tension power lines caused leukemia. Their results was statistically significant. But they tested 800 medical conditions. They were bound to come up with something just by chance.

That’s not to say statistics are useless. It’s to say that they have a context. When you’re testing one specific hypothesis, such as testing if vaccines cause autism, then they are useful. But they can be very deceptive when used in this scattershot approach.

Another illustration is DNA testing. Police in many areas have been doing blind DNA searches of databases to identify suspects in cold cases. When they find their suspect, they claim that the likelihood of a false match is literally one in a million. But these databases have hundreds of thousands of names in them. If you had a specific suspect and other reasons to suspect him, that one in a million stat would mean something. But in a blind search, your odds of finding a match by sheer coincidence is more like one in three.

Bohannon uses the lottery illustration and it’s a perfect one. The odds of any particular person winning the lottery are something like one in tens of millions. But someone is going to beat those odds. Someone always does.

Science — particularly when it comes to health — is littered with these sort of studies: blind searches that find something that then get touted in the media. Vox illustrates it here (point #2). There are statistically significant studies showing both that milk causes and prevents cancer. When you take them all into account, the net risk is basically zero. Of course Vox is in a bit of a glass house, having frequently touted such studies when convenient.

RIP Beau Biden

Breaking news that Beau Biden, the Vice President’s 46-year-old son has died of brain cancer. I’ve taken my shot at the Veep, but this is terrible news. Joe is no stranger to tragedy, having lost his daughter and first wife to a car accident. RIP and thoughts and prayers for the Biden family.

Friday Quick Hits

A few stories I haven’t gotten time for full blog posts on:

  • I kind of like Bernie Sanders as a candidate. Not because I agree with him on anything — I don’t. And not because I’d vote for him — I wouldn’t. I like him out there because at least he’s honest about what he thinks. I prefer an honest socialist over whatever dumbed down pap Clinton is selling while pretending to be our friend. This week, someone dug up a 1972 article he wrote about how men fantasize about abusing women and women fantasize about being raped. The conservative critics are right: this would be a *huge* deal is a Republican had written it. On the other hand, it was written 43 years ago and is so incoherent, I have to believe that Sanders wrote it on a roll of toilet paper while writhing on a bathroom floor in the midst of a bad LSD trip.
  • Texas has been on the receiving end of some terrible rains and floods recently. The cause, according to the media, is global warming. This was the same global warming that was causing droughts three years ago. Look, I accept that global warming is real, but this is getting ridiculous. Not everything is a result of global warming. I’m pretty sure we had weather before global warming. And I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to have it after global warming is solved. Maybe global warming will make torrential rains more likely, but if so it will mean something like a few extra floods a decade.
  • Nebraska became the first red state to abolish the death penalty, overriding the governor’s veto. While I’m not quite anti-capital punishment, I’m fine with this. The death penalty isn’t worth the trouble and expense. And Nebraska hasn’t executed anyone in 18 years anyway.
  • Dennis Hastert is being prosecuted for structuring and lying to investigators as he was paying hush money to someone. You can read Ken White about how these charges are basically made up. It’s likely being pursued because the statute of limitations has run out on what he did do. Illegal leaks indicate he sexually abused a student while he was a wrestling coach. I deplore the fed’s tendency to make up crimes. That doesn’t change Haster’s status as a scumbag if these allegations are true.
  • This week’s must-read is from Laura Kipnis a liberal feminist professor who found herself at the center of a Title IX inquisition because she had the temerity to question the narrative the sexual paranoia our college campuses are caving into.

FIFA Under Fire

About damned time:

Hours after Swiss authorities arrived unannounced at a Zurich hotel and arrested top FIFA officials early Wednesday morning, the Justice Department and prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York forcefully declared that their investigation had only just begun and pledged to rid the international soccer organization of systemic corruption.

“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who supervised the investigation from its earliest stages, when she was the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

Soccer officials treated FIFA business decisions as chits to be traded for personal wealth, United States officials said. Whether through convoluted financial deals or old-fashioned briefcases full of cash, people were expected to pay for access to FIFA’s river of money and publicity. The federal indictment lists 47 counts, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world. It’s not just the bribery, which has amounted to tens of millions of dollars. It’s the way they persuaded Brazil to burn billions of dollars building stadiums that are now useless (FIFA made an estimated $4 billion off the 2014 World Cup. Brazil invested over $15 billion in hosting it). It’s the way they look the other way as Qatar builds a World Cup on bribery, slavery and thousands of dead workers. If you missed it, here is John Oliver on the subject:

I’m going to make a confession: I really like international soccer. Last year’s World Cup was thrilling for the United States and I’m looking forward to 2018. But the organization that controls this sport is horrifying. They make American sports leagues — who extract billions in free stadiums from bankrupt cities based on economic nonsense — look like angels.

This is just beginning. This organization is thoroughly corrupt. I’m glad to see some justice may finally be done to them.

The Minimum Wage Follies

Ten days ago, LA made a historically dumb decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The usual chorus of Leftists emerged to claim that the contention that raising the minimum wage destroys low-wage jobs — a premise that was accepted by most economists until about two years ago — has been “debunked” as a myth (it hasn’t and it won’t be because the Law of Supply and Demand isn’t magically suspended for low-wage labor).

Some of the biggest supporters of the minimum wage hike were labor unions. You may wonder why labor unions would support hiking the minimum wage since most labor members don’t make minimum wage. The reason is that many union wages are pegged to the minimum wage and are set to automatically rise if the minimum wage does. It further gives them leverage in negotiations. If the minimum wage if $30,000 a year, it gives them an argument for larger starting union salaries. And since, in California, most labor arbitration is done by former union lawyers, it’s a nice racket. So their support has nothing to do with how much they care about the poor masses. It’s about cynically playing on sympathy for those masses to leverage their own pay hikes.

The unions have been at the forefront of claiming that the idea that minimum wage hikes destroy jobs is a myth. Well, guess what folks: they are perfectly aware of what a higher minimum wage will do. Why else would they want this:

Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.

The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

So here’s how this two-step works:

1) the unions advocate for a higher minimum wage.

2) the raising of the minimum wage either triggers pay hikes for union members or gives them a leg up in negotiations.

3) However, they allow exceptions for industries that might have to lay people off … as long as those industries are unionized.

4) Industries that can’t pay the minimum wage either leave or … become unionized.

The net result? More money for unions, more union members, less jobs and higher prices for everyone else. And liberals wonder why we are so cynical about Big Labor.