A couple of hours from now, Attorney General William P. Barr is going to explain to the press what he and his staff made invisible in the Mueller Report. And afterward he’s going to provide copies of the censored document to Congress. If you think this is, among other things, upsidedown, you wouldn’t be the only person holding to that point of view. But then this has been the case since Barr provided his four-page “summary” of the 400-page Mueller Report. A spin job by a reverse Rumpelstiltskin spinning what we presume to be Mueller gold into Trumpian straw.
The Washington Post reported last evening that the report would only be “lightly” redacted, but later there were reports of “heavy” redactions. Every media outlet could improve their mostly wretched credibility ratings if they would reflect the reality of the redactions in their headlines.
Here are some suggestions, not all of which originate with me: The Barr Whitewash? The Barr Laundromat? The Lowered Barr Bar? The Barr Bowdlerization? The Barrdlerization? The Barr Exculpation? The Barr Expurgation? The Donald Decontamination?
Hmmmm. Perhaps they should just make it simple and just call it Barrf.
The Editorial Board of The Washington Post recommends Barr’s redactions on the Mueller report don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt:
Mr. Barr is essentially asking Congress and the public to take him at his word that his redactions will be proper. There is already cause for wariness about Mr. Barr’s judgment, following reports that those who worked on the Mueller investigation felt that the summary the attorney general released last month inadequately represented their findings. The fact that Mr. Barr rejected the notion that Mr. Trump obstructed justice, even though Mr. Mueller made no determination on the matter, is another concerning sign about what the attorney general is thinking.
More importantly, Mr. Barr works for an administration preparing for all-out war with Congress over all sorts of disclosure, which would be only the latest in a string of bad-faith rejections of federal rules and traditional norms. Regardless of the attorney general’s reputation, he still works for an administration that long ago lost any benefit of the doubt on transparency and fair play.
There may be no satisfying end to this national saga until an independent referee steps in to sort out the controversy. Reggie Walton, a U.S. district judge, raised on Tuesday one possibility for further review. Accusing Mr. Barr of creating “an environment that has caused a significant part of the public ... to be concerned about whether or not there is full transparency,” the judge raised the possibility that he would demand an unredacted copy to review whether the Justice Department’s omissions were warranted. We hope he follows through. Mr. Walton could ensure that the redactions followed Freedom of Information Act procedures and were not influenced by political considerations.
Matt Ford at The New Republic writes—Will Rod Rosenstein Regret Defending Bill Barr?
The Mueller report, set to be released in redacted form on Thursday, will be a test of Attorney General Bill Barr’s integrity. Many critics expect him to flunk it. “I don’t trust Barr,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Associated Press last week. “I trust Mueller.” Some have even accused Barr of a cover-up, a case bolstered by reportingthat special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings may be more damning for President Donald Trump than Barr had suggested in his summary to Congress last month.
A notable exception to this discontent is Rod Rosenstein. The deputy attorney general appointed Mueller nearly two years ago, and since then has defended the Russia investigation’s legitimacy from presidential and congressional attacks. Over the past few weeks, he’s used that credibility to defend his boss as he wraps up the probe. “[Barr] knows the history, he understands the issues, he respects the employees, and he will defend the principles,” Rosenstein wrote for Time’s list, released on Wednesday, of the year’s 100 most influential people. “With Bill Barr at the helm, the rule of law is secure.”
This presents a tricky quandary for Barr’s critics. Rosenstein is perhaps the only current official in the Justice Department with the credibility among Trump’s opponents to defend Barr. (Mueller could as well, but he’s not prone to public comments.) While figures like former FBI Director James Comey have argued that Barr should get the benefit of the doubt, Rosenstein’s knowledge of Mueller’s findings lends authority to that view. But his staunch defense of Barr presents its own risks for the deputy attorney general. Giving Barr’s actions the imprimatur of legitimacy only works if they turn out to be legitimate in the long run.
Barr’s actions so far have not inspired much confidence in his independence from the White House.
Cathy O’Neil at Bloomberg writes—Yes, Government Should Regulate Automated Decision-Making. Somebody has to reassert human control over algorithmic people-management. Kudos to Congressional Democrats for making the effort.:
A backlash against big tech has sent lawmakers all over the world scrambling for ways to restrain the influence of computers over daily life. Now, Congressional Democrats are offering up an Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019, an expansive and ambitious new take on how to regulate automated decision-making. Whether or not it becomes law, it’s a necessary effort to reassert human control as opaque algorithms take over bureaucratic processes.
Algorithms are being used everywhere: in credit decisions, mortgages insurance rates, who gets a job, which kids get into college, and how long criminal defendants go to prison to name a few proliferating examples. Messy, complicated human decisions are being made, typically without an explanation or a chance to appeal, by artificial intelligence systems. They provide efficiency, profitability, and, often, a sense of scientific precision and authority.
The problem is that this authority has been bestowed too hastily. Algorithms are increasingly found to be making mistakes. Whether it’s a sexist hiring algorithm developed by Amazon, conspiracy theories promoted by the Google search engine or an IBM facial-recognition program that didn’t work nearly as well on black women as on white men, we’ve seen that large companies that pride themselves on their technical prowess are having trouble navigating this terrain.
And if that’s what we know about, imagine what we don’t.
Chris Lu at USAToday writes—Why Trump's Cabinet vacancies, turnover threaten our government:
During the presidential campaign and the early days of the administration, Trump claimed that a businessman could better run government, he would "hire the best people," and his Cabinet was "the finest group of people ever assembled."
The reality has been much different. With Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon now gone, too, there are now five vacant Cabinet positions. That doesn't even count the constant turnover at the White House, which is now on its third chief of staff, third national security advisor, and who-knows-how-many communications directors. [...]
One person not bothered by these vacancies is Trump himself, who says that acting officials give him "more flexibility." Like an episode of "The Apprentice," the temporary nature of these appointments incentivizes acting officials to vie for the chance to serve permanently, helping to ensure their loyalty to Trump.
While such a management approach might generate short-term loyalty, it's not conducive to producing positive outcomes. Whether it's a Fortune 500 company or the federal government, a diverse set of voices — especially dissenting voices — is needed around the table.
Charles M. Blow at The New York Times writes—The Complexities of the Black Vote. Alas, Pete Buttigieg isn’t Obama. No one is.:
Pete Buttigieg gives me Barack Obama vibes.
This young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, officially kicked off his presidential bid at a rally this week in that city.
Buttigieg said to the adoring crowd: “I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold — at age 37 — to seek the highest office in the land.”
As Alex Burns of The New York Times noted: “This line is an almost explicit invocation of Mr. Obama’s 2007 announcement speech, when he said, ‘I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness, a certain audacity’ to a junior senator like him seeking the presidency. Mr. Buttigieg uses Obama-esque flourishes throughout, including more than half a dozen references each to ‘hope’ and ‘change.’”
But alas, Buttigieg isn’t Obama. No one is. The swelling crowd of Democratic hopefuls consists of candidates who are their own people with their own strengths and weakness. And, one of those weaknesses, for many, is how to appeal to the black voters.
Jill Filopovic at The Guardian writes—The misogynist trolls attacking Katie Bouman are the tip of the trashpile:
The researcher Dr Katie Bouman played a leading role in taking the first photograph of a black hole. A photo of the 29-year-old Bouman taken the moment the photo was processed shows her with her hands clasped in front of her mouth, looking at the camera with a mix of shock and excitement. It went viral – both a testament to the groundbreaking work itself and a moment of victory for women in the sciences, whose contributions have long been ignored, downplayed and erased.
The giddiness didn’t last long.
Anti-feminist trolls latched on to the story and attacked Bouman with a vitriol that, in a saner world, would be shocking, but in this one looked a lot like the reaction to a Ghostbusters movie remake with a female cast – that is, sad, angry men yelling at women on the internet. Trolls created fake social media accounts impersonating Bouman. They questioned her contribution to the project. When she said that she was part of a team who all worked hard to make the photo happen, they dug in deeper, suggesting she was only getting public attention because she was a woman, when men did all the real work.
Unfortunately, this is par for the course for women on the internet. Or women in politics. Or women on television. Or women who become prominent in any way, even if they are, like Katie Bouman, private citizens who did something truly amazing.
Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post writes—The burning of a great stone book:
That an edifice like Notre Dame Cathedral could survive so much and then, in an instant, by accident, be engulfed in flames and devastated in a matter of hours causes, in 2019, a sensation that is at once harrowing and dully familiar. We assume that things are durable because they have lasted. But in the words of G. K. Chesterton (words that always occur to me at such moments) “to be breakable is not the same thing as to be perishable. Strike a glass and it will not endure an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years.”
“A vast symphony in stone,” wrote Victor Hugo of Notre Dame in his novel of the same name. “The colossal work of a man and of a nation," he continued, "combining unity with complexity, like the Iliads and the Romanceros to which it is a sister production; the prodigious result of a draught upon the whole resources of an era -- in which upon every stone is seen displayed, in a hundred varieties, the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist -- a sort of human Creation, in short, mighty and prolific as the Divine Creation, of which it seems to have caught the double character, variety and eternity.”
Yet, strangely, Hugo’s contention was that the book had killed the cathedral. The cathedral had been the form for the preservation of human thought for centuries. “In those ages, whoever was born a poet,” Hugo wrote, “became an architect.”
To Hugo, the cathedral, with its heavy towers and its soaring spire leaping weightlessly heavenwards, was a book in which, over the course of two centuries of construction, builders and masons and architects and worshipers had inscribed their thoughts. Passersby and worshipers could read their hopes and see the spots that marked their transit from birth to oblivion. Their labor wrote sentences in the stone, paragraphs; it built a cathedral. It was not merely a sermon in stone; it was a symphony, made up of innumerable voices.
Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News writes—Radnor’s murder problem, and the uphill fight to stop violence against women:
Radnor Township, where the Blue Route bisects the Main Line, is a monument to three-car-garaged modern American affluenza that nevertheless clings to its ancient small-town traditions — its holiday parades with classic cars and flag-waving marching bands, and its sparkly annual Christmas tree lighting.
It also has a murder problem.
OK, to be clear, the Delaware County township of 31,000 mostly well-to-do souls has a murder problem with a giant asterisk next to it. In one sense, big cities like Philadelphia just 12 miles to the east would ... OK, not kill for, but covet a crime rate so low, in a community where cops still have enough time to check out your inspection sticker as you drive past.
But after many years with few, if any, instances of the worst crime — homicide — Radnor has seen four murders in the last five years. Each scenario was different from the others, and uniquely tragic. But each also had three numbing facts in common.
Each of the four killings stemmed from what could broadly be called a domestic situation.
Each time, the weapon of choice was a gun.
And in each case, the primary target was a woman.
Helaine Olen at The Washington Post writes—How Fox News accidentally revealed the truth about support for Medicare-for-all:
It was a moment so surreal, it seemed almost like a dream. During Fox News’s Monday night town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), host Bret Baier asked audience members how many had private health insurance. A large majority raised their hands. He then followed up by asking how many would like to see Medicare-for-all enacted. Almost all the same hands went up — remember, this was on Fox News! — with wild cheers to boot.
Baier’s action violated a major rule of lawyers: Never ask a witness on the stand a question to which you don’t know the answer. However, I must point out, only in the Fox News bubble would anyone be surprised by the popularity of Medicare-for-all — polls routinely find more than half of Americans say they support it, including one from last year that found a majority of Republicans say they back Sanders’s signature initiative. [...]
Health care and health insurance costs are putting increasing strains on all budgets, not simply those of people living paycheck to paycheck. As the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, the typical health insurance premium for a family increased at double the rate of inflation in 2018, after soaring by 55 percent over the previous decade. The average deductible is also in the four figures, having increased by slightly more than 50 percent over a five-year period. People find medical services increasingly unaffordable, even when they are insured, with almost a quarter of people prescribed prescription drugs — including 23 percent of senior citizens — saying they are having an increasingly hard time affording their medicines. [...]
All this goes a long way toward explaining why parts of the health insurance industry went on the offensive Tuesday after Sanders’ appearance on Fox, attempting to scare the American public into submission to the current, clearly unacceptable status quo.
Sara Nelson at Vox writes—Flight attendants know the real job killer isn’t the Green New Deal. It’s climate change. Our union represents 50,000 flight attendants. We know climate change is a huge threat:
In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel.
That’s absurd. It’s not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer.
Severe turbulence is becoming more frequent and intense due in part to climate change.Research indicates that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere cause disruptions to the jet streams and create dangerous wind shears that greatly increase turbulence, especially at moderate latitudes where the majority of air travel occurs. [...]
Turbulence is a threat to safety and economic security, but it’s only part of the harm caused by climate change. As extreme weather events become more common, more and more flights never take off at all. Grounded flights mean lost pay for flight attendants, who earn an hourly wage while we’re in the air.
When the polar vortex plunged most of the US into a deep freeze in January, airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights. Over the past two summers, flights in Phoenix and Salt Lake City were canceled due to excessive heat.
Stephanie Wykstra at Vox writes—The case against solitary confinement. On any given day, some 61,000 people are in solitary confinement in US prisons. It’s time to abolish the practice:
Thousands of people — at least 61,000 on any given day and likely many thousands morethan that — are in solitary confinement across the country, spending 23 hours per day in cells not much bigger than elevators. They are disproportionately young men, and disproportionately Hispanic and African American. The majority spend a few months in it, but at least a couple of thousand people have been in solitary confinement for six years or more. Some, like Woodfox, have been held for decades.
Solitary confinement causes extreme suffering, particularly over prolonged periods of months or years. Effects include anxiety, panic, rage, paranoia, hallucinations, and, in some cases, suicide.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, deemed that prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture, and the UN’s Mandela Rules dictate that it should never be used with youth and those with mental or physical disability or illness, or for anyone for more than 15 days. Méndez, who inspected prisons in many countries, wrote, “[I]t is safe to say that the United States uses solitary confinement more extensively than any other country, for longer periods, and with fewer guarantees.”
Chris Brooks at In These Times writes—As Tenn. Workers Gear Up for Another Union Campaign, Local Media Shows Anti-Union Bias:
In the lead-up to another United Automobile Workers (UAW) vote at Volkswagen in Tennessee, the region’s paper of record is once again providing tacit aid to anti-union efforts.
On Tuesday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press (CTFP) published an article announcing that the UAW had filed for another union election in the Chattanooga plant. The article quotes Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF), which—for six decades—has been a leading advocate for the destruction of public and private sector unions. In the article, Semmens says the NRTWLDF represented Volkswagen workers in 2014 to “protect their rights”—and then announces that the organization is willing to provide free legal representation to anti-union Volkswagen workers again.
The following day, the CTFP published another article that extensively quotes Semmen’s colleague John Raudabaugh—a high-paid NRTWLDF staff attorney who was actively involved in the organization’s 2014 campaign against the UAW.
In both articles, the CTFP quotes NRTWLDF employees talking about the ongoing corruption scandal in the UAW, but omits the employer’s own criminal behavior. In 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a unanimous decision that Volkswagen was violating federal labor law by refusing to negotiate with the skilled-trades unit that the UAW had successfully organized in 2015.
Dick Startz at the Los Angeles Times—Give teachers more money. The raises will pay for themselves:
Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris of California wants to increase teachers’ pay nationwide to the level enjoyed by other college-educated workers — and her proposal would give a typical educator a $13,500 raise. She suggests covering the $30-billion-a-year price tag by increasing the estate tax and closing some loopholes benefiting the top 1% of taxpayers.
She may need that tax plan for political reasons. But in fact, a teacher pay raise will pay for itself. No — actually, raising teacher pay will likely make money for the government. [...]
Better teachers impart more knowledge. Students who learn more earn more. People who earn more pay more taxes — and in this case, more than enough to cover higher teacher salaries.
It’s well established that an extra year of student learning raises lifetime earnings by about 10%. We can also work out roughly how much more students would learn from better paid teachers. A Columbia University study looking across states finds that a raise of the size Harris proposes would have a measurable impact: On average, graduating students would have gained the equivalent of an extra 30% of a school year. International comparisons of teacher salaries and student performance suggest an effect three times that size.