Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Times-Picayune Clamors for an Arrest in New Orleans Shooting

After the shootings on New Orleans' Bourbon Street Sunday morning, it's frustrating to see how the Times-Picayune led Wednesday's print edition:


Factually accurate? Yes. Helpful? No.

The article gave the latest information on various aspects of the shooting and the investigation -- useful stuff, but with no huge development or breakthrough. (Note: two major developments have happened since then, on Wednesday: the police released two photos and the name of a person of interest, and the most severely injured victim died).

Of course everyone hopes that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice, and of course many are eager for this to happen promptly. And the Times-Picayune has some legitimate gripes about the police releasing some information too slowly.

But leading the paper with this story, with this headline, is pushing it in my book. This is a headline that says "there isn't news of big progress from the police, and we think that fact itself is such news that we're going to make it the top story."

All the information in the story belonged in the paper, but given the lack of major developments, putting it at the top, with that headline, is effectively clamoring for an arrest. It's suggesting to the reader that there ought to be an arrest, and it's news that there isn't one.

It's things like these that help create pressures on mayors and police departments and prosecutors to do bad things in an investigation.

I'm worked up about this because I watched the The Central Park Five documentary yesterday. That was a vastly different situation, but one of the lessons of that case (and so many others) is that we shouldn't be simply clamoring for an immediate suspect or arrest (unless it is a situation where there is reason to believe the police are not working hard on the case, which is not the situation here).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just Before Tracy Morgan Was Critically Injured, These 21 Senators Voted to Weaken Highway Safety Rules

About 39 hours before Saturday morning's tragic crash that killed comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair and critically injured Tracy Morgan and several others, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-9 in favor of an amendment by Senator Susan Collins that would weaken the current regulations on how much rest truck drivers would have.

Those rules, which were finalized by the Obama Administration in December 2011 and took effect in July 2013, represented some progress, but were largely a disappointment because they were weakened from an earlier version after heavy lobbying from the trucking industry. The rules required more rest for truckers, but failed to restore a decades-old requirement that truckers could drive no more than 10 hours per day -- leaving in place a Bush Administration policy that allows 11 hours per day. As Henry Jasny of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety told Bloomberg News at the time, "This is a breach of promise of making safety the No. 1 goal of the agency and the Transportation Department .. It’s more than disappointing."

Flash back to Susan Collins' amendment: It would weaken even the 2011 rules, undoing two of the rest requirement provisions for a year. The committee attached it to a spending bill in that 21-9 vote last Thursday; the Tracy Morgan crash happened early Saturday morning. Prosecutors allege the truck driver involved had not slept for 24 hours, which by itself was legal. Fatigue was likely a cause of the crash, though it's hard if not impossible to know for certain.

The Tracy Morgan tragedy has cast a negative light on Collins effort, and it's now gotten far more attention -- e.g. articles in the Huffington Post and Bloomberg and a segment on NBC Nightly News, along with terrific editorials in USA Today ("The full Senate and House ought to have enough sense to leave it [the current rule] alone") and the Baltimore Sun ("the prospect of putting more such [fatigued] drivers on the road ought to motivate the House and Senate to strike down this dangerous amendment…)

So who were the 21 Senators who voted for Collins' amendment? I haven't seen anyone report the names, and the committee doesn't post the roll calls on individual amendment votes, but gave me the list when I called. All 14 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted for it (9 Democrats voted against). Below, meet the members who voted for weakening even the weak trucker rest rules we have today.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Sequester fail

Going back a few days here, and maybe this is not exactly new, but, this Ezra Klein post nicely captures how the FAA vote in congress marks the Democrats officially failing on the sequester politics.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Economist on climate

Turns out an Economist article on climate change not necessarily being all that bad doesn't really hold up.

WaPo Facebook

Oh hey there's Facebook on the front page of the Post again. It appears to be a legitimate story, though. [[Facebook flexes political muscle with provision in immigration bill]]

Friday, April 05, 2013

Wes in the news

NYT goes A1 today with quite a critical story on prominent Wesleyan alum Majora Carter ("Hero of the Bronx Is Now Accused of Betraying It.")

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Sunstein tell-all

Lisa Heinzerling critiques Simpler by Cass Sunstein.

Friday, March 29, 2013

TAL on disability

Haven't listened to it myself. But the left is pushing back hard on This American Life's piece on disability insurance.

Update: much more here.

NYC paid sick leave

This is a big deal. The NYT front-pager today explains the compromise deal, and recounts some of the history of Christine Quinn blocking the legislation, but eventually suffering under the costs of huge pressure and a tremendous campaign for it, and deciding to bargain.

I don't have a sense as to how good or not this compromise is on the scale of things. It sounds like there may be lessons to be learned here about sticking with a campaign and the possibilities for pressuring someone who is seeking office.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What politicians say matters, drones edition

Glenn Greenwald has written previously about how President Obama has taken extreme civil liberties violations, ones that received widespread criticism by liberals under Bush's presidency, and effectively mainstreamed them. What so much of the public once claimed to abhor the public now largely embraces, and this was largely the work of the Obama Administration. There are nuances, yes, but I think Greenwald is basically right about this.

Now David Weigel points out new polling on drones. It turns out that public opinion on has soured somewhat on them, and this coincided, Weigel argues, with Rand Paul bringing negative attention to the subject. (On this one, it seems harder to know exactly what part of it Paul caused, but I do think it's at least a significant part).

The point is this: what politicians say matters. Yes, it can be overstated, and the effects vary from issues to issue. On some things, like perhaps abortion, most people are fairly entrenched, so a President or member of congress isn't going to move things that much, presumably. With many other issues, such as drones, the public has less of an entrenched position.

And so maybe this is all an argument in favor of political grandstanding (which there is already lots of, obviously, but hardly in all of the ways I would like). And when a President or member of congress says "I can't move public opinion just by what I say!" remember that sometimes they can.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

NYT moves Iran-Contra into muddy territory

Peter Hart catches the NYT saying:
In the 1980s, Democrats harshly criticized President Ronald Reagan's attempts to arm Nicaraguan rebels.
The key word being "attempts" -- because back in reality, Reagan actually did arm the Contras.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boston Phoenix

The Boston Phoenix announced today that it is ceasing publication.

While the alt weeklies in the bigger cities around the country are not what they once were, I think to this day many of them break a ton of stories and do news and commentary in a way that no one else does. And The Phoenix has certainly been part of that.

Call me skeptical that anyone is going to fill that gap in anywhere near the same way.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mary Jo White

I said the other week that I was surprised Gretchen Morgenson seemed so optimistic about Mary Jo White, the SEC nominee. Looking back at it, maybe I was over-reading (misreading, I guess) her column, though.

And now in Sunday's paper, in looking at White's past, Morgenson is kind of unimpressed.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Organizing for Action backs down

Kind of a big deal. After getting tons of criticism, the Obama Administration's advocacy group for Whatever The President Is For announces they won't be taking corporate donations.

Doesn't make the group great all of a sudden, and there's still room for influence by people with a lot of money. But, progress. And progress that wouldn't have happened without the backlash.

New WaPo ombud

The Washington Post is ending their ombudsman position. The Washington City Paper says: alright, then we are the new ombudsman.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Kellerism

Bill Keller continues his downhill trend, now claiming that Obama campaigned "on poll-tested tax hikes alone." Republican message, yes. What actually happened, no.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thinking about lines

In regards to sequester furloughs, such as at Customs and Border Protection, the White House says:  "At the nation’s busiest airports, like Newark, JFK, LAX, and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times could grow to over 4 hours or more."

Indeed: if you furlough some people, so you have fewer agents working, the line is going to build up during the day and get longer and longer.

But remember that this first step doesn't guarantee that the government actually saves money. If you still have the same planes coming in, and they're still as full as they were the week before, then the line builds up and gets longer over the course of the day, as the throughput is lower than it used to be, while the input is the same. So, late in the day, the line is still there, unusually long and unusually late into the evening, and doesn't go away altogether until later at night.

The government is still processing the same number of people entering the country; you still need the same total agent-hours. Whether you pay 20 agents to work 10 hours or only pay 10 agents -- but then they have to work 20 hours -- would make no difference spending wise. (I'm simplifying here).

The government starts saving money only if and when you reach the second step: the lines are so long that people find out about it, and cancel their trips to the United States. Then the agent-hours the government has to pay for actually start to decrease.

Lines are weird. We usually don't think about them very well. With "short" lines, the situation is determined mostly by the input, the output, and how much line had already built up. With longer lines, the input starts to get affected (if people have information about the length of the line), making a very different dynamic.

How long the lines will be, and how much money the government will actually save, will depend on how good information people get about those lines and what they decide to do with it.