The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Gun violence in Chicago

Crain's has a 3-part series this week on why Chicago has so much gun violence:

So far in 2017, more than 1,200 people have been shot and 220 killed in Chicago. Shockingly, 30 of those deaths were children 18 or younger. As Memorial Day approaches—historically one of the city's most violent weekends—Crain's examines a facet of the issue that isn't often discussed: the psychological reason so many young men in Chicago are pulling the trigger.

The sobering statistics suggest that the rate of violence in Chicago this year could run apace with the dramatic levels registered in 2016, which saw more than 750 homicides and 3,600 shootings—the highest in 20 years.

The inability to quell the violence is alarming. So is the fact that these numbers exceed the joint total of those documented for New York City and Los Angeles, cities with a combined population nearly four times that of Chicago.

But Chicago's homicide rate cannot be explained simply by demographic characteristics, impoverishment, the ready availability of illegal handguns or alienation from the police in minority neighborhoods. All play a role, but the major factors promoting violence are likely to lie elsewhere.

Based on many years of interactions with young men who were in jail, on probation supervision or in treatment, we believe that "elsewhere" mostly rests at the intersection of Chicago youths' psychological vulnerability and the environments and circumstances that encourage the expression of violent tendencies. This conclusion stems from our varied careers and professional activities, which include regular contact with detainees in the Cook County Jail who are receiving behavioral health care services, as well as the directorship of a youth clinic that served the Near North Side and Cabrini-Green.

The whole series is worth a read.

Justice Thomas joins the liberals

In yesterday's ruling in Harris v Cooper, the Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina's blatant gerrymandering. The surprising bit is that Justice Clarence Thomas voted in the majority on both issues. New Republic's Scott Lemieux postulates reasons why:

In a 2015 case, Thomas provided the fifth vote to an opinion holding that Texas was not required to issue license plates with the Confederate flag as part of its option of personalized license plates. It is not terribly surprising that even a conservative African-American who grew up impoverished in the rural Jim Crow South would have a different perspective on the Confederacy and its legacy than the typical conservative.

Thomas’s votes yesterday were squarely within that tradition. His brief concurring opinion emphasized that the result comported with two of his longstanding views. First, he believes that any use of race by the government, for any purpose, triggers strict scrutiny, a high burden North Carolina could not meet. Since the state conceded that District 1 was intentionally created as a majority-minority district, this made the case easy for Thomas as well as the other conservatives.

He also explained that he joined the liberal faction with respect to District 12 in part because of his belief in deferring to the findings of the trial court unless it clearly errs.

This isn't an evolution, but who Thomas really is, Lemieux says. Maybe Antonin Scalia so overshadowed Thomas that we really didn't see it? I'll need more convincing.

Things that I can't read until I have a few drinks

Just, I dunno, man.

Sleep is overrated.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.

Three quick bits post-Comey

With no one who can read written words believing that the official reason for former FBI Director James Comey's firing is true, the Washington Post has three germaine articles today on the subject:

The last story has this nugget:

Interestingly, the reason the numbers have ticked down appears to be the group that elected Trump in the first place: white, working-class voters. Whites without college degrees approved of Trump 57 percent to 38 percent in the mid-April Q poll and 51-39 percent in late March/early April; today they are split, with 47 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving.

Yes, basically, he's exactly the dumpster fire most of us predicted. Good thing he's a Master Persuader.

Scott Adams on the Comey firing

I was waiting with bated breath to see how Scott Adams would spin last night's Watergate moment into yet another example of the masterful persuasion techniques of President Trump. Like Baghdad Bob standing on the hotel roof, he did not disappoint:

Democrats and the Opposition Media reflexively oppose almost everything President Trump does. This time he gave them something they wanted, badly, but not for the reason they wanted. That’s a trigger. It forces anti-Trumpers to act angry in public that he did the thing they wanted him to do. And they are.

Trump cleverly addressed the FBI’s Russian collusion investigation by putting the following line in the Comey firing letter: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

That one odd sentence caused every media outlet to display the quote and talk about it, over and over. And when you focus on something, no matter the reason, it rises in importance in your mind. President Trump, the Master Persuader, made all of us think about the “not under investigation” part over, and over, and over.

Except, Democrats didn't want Comey fired. We were pissed off at him, sure, and had a lot of criticism for him, sure. But all of that was subordinate to the institutional integrity of the FBI.

Later Adams invents "the media" "turning on" Comey after the firing. I don't know what media he's seeing, but in the MSM (New York TimesWashington Post, etc.) I'm seeing the opposite.

Adams' credibility on Trump suffers every time he spins his "master persuader" crap, but I still read his blog for entertainment value. I am curious, however, when Adams will stop pointing out cognitive dissonance in everyone else and recognize it in himself. Even if Trump has unusually powerful persuasion skills, he can still be incompetent and unfit for office. And Occam's Razor suggests, given the evidence so far, that Comey's firing was less about persuasion and more about Trump being an amateur.

We'll see. Adams did predict Trump's win, after all. Let's see what he thinks after more of Trump's corruption, incompetence, and destruction of American institutions comes to light.

They can't be that stupid, can they?

I'll get to Eddie Lampert's interview with the Chicago Tribune later today. But first, let's take a moment to realize that as we shake our heads at the amateur hour over at the White House, we knew damn well they were going to cause a Constitutional crisis at some point.

And that point arrived last night:

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

The White House staff, apparently caught off-guard about their boss's unprecedented, earth-shaking action, rushed into full Keystone Kops mode:

After [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.

“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?”

Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.

The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?

As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired.

Nobody believes that last bit. Not even a little. In fact, CNN reported that President Trump asked Rosenstein to come up with a rationale for firing Comey last week, so the thought that Rosenstein did this sua sponte is preposterous. Josh Marshall:

There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.

Yes. Under any other administration, this would be an unbelievable development. But under this administration, it's not only believable, it seems inevitable. And we're 603 days away from a new Congress taking their seats, which seems the earliest that anyone will have the political will to start impeachment proceedings.

Is my local CTA station worth $200 million?

Despite his initial skepticism, Crain's Greg Hinz sees the value:

Ponder for a moment what $200 million can accomplish, even in government, and even at a time when money isn't worth what it used to be.

Two hundred million dollars would pretty much fill the hole in the Chicago Public Schools budget, the one that had officials threatening to end school three weeks early. Two hundred million dollars would completely pay for the budget of the city Department of Streets & Sanitation for a year (with $50 million left over), or provide not one but two years of subsidies to keep Cook County's hospital and health clinics up and running.

So is the Chicago Transit Authority doing the right thing by spending $203 million, to be exact, to rebuild just one el stop, the hoary Wilson Avenue station on the Red Line in Uptown? Are taxpayers really getting a good deal?

"It's not a station—it's a station with a bridge," replies Chris Bushell, the CTA's chief technology officer. And the century-old bridge, which runs a half-mile, not only had to be replaced from the ground up, it had to be kept in operation while hundreds of Red and Purple Line trains trundled by with more than 75 million people a year.

The project should be finished this fall, just as another huge infrastructure project gets underway on the other side of Uptown.

Conventional wisdom vs. evidence

Nate Silver has compared pundit analyses of poll data to actual voting results and determined that the pundits get things consistently wrong and in the wrong direction:

This French election was part of a pattern that I began to notice two years ago in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Take the 2012 U.S. presidential election as an example. Most of the mainstream media concluded that the race was too close to call, despite a modest but fairly robust Electoral College lead for then-President Barack Obama. But on Election Day, it was Obama who beat his polls and not Mitt Romney.2

Forecasters are overconfident more often than they might realize — and there’s a lot to be said for media outlets erring on the side of caution until a vote has taken place. But France was the wrong hill for anything-can-happen-because-Trump! punditry to die upon. Whereas Clinton led Trump by just 3 to 4 percentage points in national polls (and by less than that in the average swing state), and “Remain” led “Leave” by only a point or so, Le Pen had consistently trailed Macron by 20 to 25 points.

Despite their vastly different polling, however, Trump, Brexit and Le Pen had all been given a 10 to 20 percent chance by betting markets — a good proxy for the conventional wisdom — on the eve of their respective elections. Experts and bettors were irrationally confident about a Clinton victory and a “Remain” victory — and irrationally worried about a Macron loss. In each case, the polls erred in the opposite direction of what the markets expected.

Pollsters have a difficult and essential job, but they’re under a lot of pressure from media outlets that don’t understand all that much about polling or statistics and who often judge the polls’ performance incorrectly.5 They’re also under scrutiny from voters, pundits and political parties looking for reassurance about their preferred candidates. Social media can encourage conformity and groupthink and reinforce everyone’s prior beliefs, leading them to believe there’s a surfeit of evidence for a flimsy conclusion. Under these conditions, it’s easy for polls to be contaminated by the conventional wisdom instead of being a check on elites’ views — and to be the worse for it.

Can't wait to see the polls on the 2018 U.S. elections.