Sunday, February 26, 2017

Top Line: Week of 2/19/2017

  • Donald Trump's conflicts of interest continue; specifically, a party sponsored by the state of Kuwait at Trump hotel. 
  • The White House's contact with the FBI regarding an ongoing investigation is unprecedented and possibly a violation of ethics rules.
  • The president continues to use an unsecured Android phone.
  • Getting shot by police during an encounter is far more likely for minorities.
  • Voter ID laws suppress minority votes.
  • It pays to be white in America.
  • The White House removed all of the data in its Open Data portal. This may be simply a transition issue, or it could be something else. Keep an eye on this topic.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Underpaid and Ripped Off: The Gender Earnings Gap in California

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Look Out! NYC Motor Vehicle Incidents

New York City's Vision Zero is an attempt by the city to reduce motor vehicle related injuries and deaths to zero. While deaths are on the decline, incidents where an injury has occurred are on the rise.
Incidents largely correspond to traffic patterns. Weekends experience more traffic deaths late at night while there is a noticeable increase of incidents during rush hours on weekdays.
While the city is clearly working to reduce traffic incidents, the map shows a clearly mixed bag--and in predictable spots. For example, there are a large number of incidents that occur around the John Jay Park (and playground) and FDR Drive.
The Google street view shows two intersections that make it easy for a person to cross from a quiet side-street into one of the busiest and fastest moving roads in Manhattan. There is a pedestrian walkway 3 blocks up, but that is clearly not redirecting people.
One of Vision Zero's main goals is to create barriers between pedestrians and traffic. The second dangerous intersection shows some of the steps the city has taken to more clearly indicate that pedestrians should avoid dangerous behavior.
The city is certainly taking the right steps, but much more has to be done.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Top Line: Week of 2/12/17

This week's Top Line will be dedicated to Donald Trump's 77 minute press conference from earlier this week.

There were so many verifiable falsehoods that I have stuck only to the statements that garnered the most press and attention.

  • Donald Trump has yet to fully resolve his conflicts of interest.
  • During the campaign, advisers close to Donald Trump, were in contact with Russia. This story is news.
    • Donald Trump's history with Russia is substantive
  • Donald Trump's visit to Mar-a-Lago last weekend precipitated a potential national security breach--there is sufficient evidence for an investigation.
  • In the 8 elections since Ronald Reagan, the number of electoral votes that Donald Trump received ranks number 6. He received 304 electoral votes. Donald Trump under performed the median number of votes at 348.5.
  • Racism is defined, in part, by "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race." Not all people of a given race know each other.
  • The Congressional Black Caucus is a group of black members of Congress. They have invited Trump to meet, but have not heard back from the White House.
  • Jake Turx--reporter for Ami Magazine--was definitely throwing a soft-ball question, simply asking if the White House would condemn the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
  • Donald Trump is far from the least racist person.
  • Savings for the F35 program are not attributable to any action taken by the current administration--the savings are due to higher unit orders which save money on a per unit basis.
  • The media's job is to interrogate authority, be skeptical of the official line, and seek out the truth. Media also issues retractions or corrections when the organization prints false or misleading content. By contrast, 70% of Donald Trump's statements have been evaluated as Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire by has not retracted or clarified a single one of these statements.
  • Regulations do not hamper businesses in the United States. In fact, the World Bank rates the US as number 8 for "Ease of doing business" for 2017.
    • The number of regulations is less important than the quality of the regulations.
  • While the Boeing Dreamliner's parts are put together in the US, many of it's component parts still come from abroad. Made in the USA is somewhat of a misnomer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Timeline of the Michael Flynn Scandal

Confused by the multiple versions of events that have been presented to the public regarding the Michael Flynn scandal? So was I.

I created the handy viz above to help me out.

Please let me know any corrections or omissions.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Lot of People

Feel free to zoom in on this picture--there are 10,000 little tiny people icons.

That's a lot of people; in a world of 7.4 billion, it is only .000143% of all the people in the world.

There has been a lot of talk recently about crowds, people, and percentages. What is 1 person? What is 10,000? What is 10 million?

To some extent viewing even 10,000 people together is an overwhelming proposition--I struggle to understand the meaning of a mass of humans that size. Further, it becomes almost nonsensical to attempt to understand that the Women's March drew over 3 million people out into the streets to protest a mere few weekends ago.

One way that I have attempted to think about these numbers is think about a fraction of the group. One percent of 10,000 is still 100 people.

My wedding had 125 people attend--I count myself lucky to have so many that I love in my life. Even then, I had to make hard choices about who would be invited. When I think about my same wedding, that packed reception hall, and imagine it occupied by only 25 people, I get a sense of 1% of 10,000. 100 people missing from that celebration, and I know and love each one.

When we talk about the number of people affected at any given moment by any given policy we sometimes lose sight of the humanity in each individual.

Often, we encapsulate a population in the story or picture of a single individual, we create a narrative and stamp it across the spectrum, assuming the details are more or less the same.

But the details are not the same.

So, it seems strange that this week's visualization is a stamp of a single human icon shown thousands of times. When you explore the visualization, I ask that you think about just a few of the individuals in your life, their unique stories, and apply those to the generic human outlines.

Top Line: Week of 2/5/17

  • The fiduciary rule asks that brokers disclose any conflicts of interest when selling investment products to customers. It is currently being considered for repeal.
  • Amnesty International released a report showing that the Syrian Government is engaged in systematic torture, gassing, and mass killings for political prisoners.
  • The murder rate is trending downward.

  • The comments sent to Republican Senator Tim Scott are racist and do not elevate discourse.
  • TSA's 'behavior detection' screening program is unscientific and contrary to the studies it cites.
  • Trump's conflicts of interest are still unaddressed.
  • Kellyanne Conway's comments regarding Ivanka Trump's clothing line are probably a violation of ethics rules and at least warrant an inquiry.
  • There is no Chief Information Security Officer at the White House, raising serious questions about cyber security.
  • Over half of the Navy's aircraft are unable to fly due to maintenance backlog.
  • Jeff Sessions is no civil rights hero.
  • This is happening. It's really happening.
  • This is an interesting read: this too; and this one.
  • Correction from last week: USACE did what was legally mandated in regards to consultation for the Environmental Assessment for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Of the 29 agencies that they contacted only 6 responded however.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

State of Washington v. Trump: Notes

"Official action that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the requirement of facial neutrality.” - Larson v. Valente

I am currently reading through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision on the Trump Administration's Executive Order banning people from seven countries from entering the United States. The decision is incredible and exciting to read (if you are a legal junkie).

Below are my notes so far; I have, as always, attempted to keep them factual, but analysis always injects some opinion. I would love to discuss other interpretations.

  • Government - the President and Executive Branch
  • States - Plaintiff states of Washington and Minnesota
  • TRO - Temporary Restraining Order (the thing that is preventing the immigration ban from being enforced)
Top Line:
  • The Government presented surprisingly weak and sporadic arguments; going so far as to misquote clearly inapplicable case law.
  • "It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile."
  • The Executive Order did not provide for proper due process (the fifth amendment) and the Government did not even attempt to argue that it did.
  • The Government argued that those affected by the ban did not have any rights under the Due Process clause.
  • It is well established case law that all persons in the United States are entitled to Due Process; this also includes certain people abroad.
  • The Government holds the burden of proof
  • The court specifically notes the slippery nature of the administration and rejected revisions by White House counsel as sufficient. Basically, the court believes the Government could do take-backsies on anything that isn't in the actual Executive Order.
  • It isn't really possible to grant a halt to the immigration ban in only one state while leaving it in place in other states--unless we build a wall around every state border. The Government actually argued that would be possible without giving any specifics.
  • Endorsement (or exclusion) of a specific religion sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’
  • The Government could not cite evidence that the Executive Order satisfied any urgent need. Instead, the Goverment said that the court shouldn't even review the order.
Full notes:
  • Arguments were heard over the phone--an indication of the urgency of this case.
  • The substance of the case is in violations of the 1st, 5th, and 10th amendments and whether the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) should stay in place while the case is litigated.
  • The State of Washington and Minnesota were granted standing because their students, faculties, and staff were affected by the immigration order.They are granted 'third-party' standing as a litigant that is "'fully, or very nearly, as effective a proponent of the right' as the third party; or when the third party is less able to assert her own rights."
    • The states are allowed to represent their own citizens, who have come to adverse harm
  • "The Executive Order prevents nationals of seven countries from entering Washington and Minnesota; as a result, some of these people will not enter state universities, some will not join those universities as faculty, some will be prevented from performing research, and some will not be permitted to return if they leave...the Government does not argue otherwise"
  • The Trump Administration argued that the President has "unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens."
    • This argument is literally unprecedented; traditional arguments note that the Judiciary should give wide deference to the Executive on matters of immigration policy, but no case law has ever supported the notion that the Judiciary cannot even review the constitutionality of a case.
    • "The Government has taken the position that the President’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections."
    • "There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy."
    • "the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context."
  • The government's argument that the court shouldn't even review the case is based on a quote taken out of context that "are plainly not subject to the Mandel standard."
  • Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2, 120-21 (1866)  “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace . . . under all circumstances.”
  • United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 264 (1967) (“‘[N]ational defense’ cannot be deemed an end in itself, justifying any exercise of legislative power designed to promote such a goal. . . . It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile.”
    • Those who would sacrifice liberty for security receive neither.
  • The Court reviewed four questions in order, and the Government failed to clear even the first two:
    • 1. Whether the Government would likely succeed in a full case
    • 2. Whether the Government "will be irreparably injured"
  • "The Government has not shown that it is likely to succeed on appeal on its arguments about, at least, the States’ Due Process Clause claim, and we also note the serious nature of the allegations the States have raised with respect to their religious discrimination claims."
  • "The Government has not shown that the Executive Order provides what due process requires, such as notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel. Indeed, the Government does not contend that the Executive Order provides for such process. Rather, in addition to the arguments addressed in other parts of this opinion, the Government argues that most or all of the individuals affected by the Executive Order have no rights under the Due Process Clause."
  • It is the Government's burden to show that it is likely to succeed in this case.
  • "The procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens. Rather, they “appl[y] to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens,” regardless of “whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 693 (2001). These rights also apply to certain aliens attempting to reenter the United States after travelling abroad. Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 33-34 (1982)."
  • White House counsel issued guidance, but that guidance was insufficient and lacked proper authority. "The Government has offered no authority establishing that the White House counsel is empowered to issue an amended order superseding the Executive Order signed by the President and now challenged by the States, and that proposition seems unlikely."
  • "The White House counsel is not the President, and he is not known to be in the chain of command for any of the Executive Departments. Moreover, in light of the Government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings"
  • "There might be persons covered by the TRO who do not have viable due process claims, but the Government’s proposed revision leaves out at least some who do"
  • "We decline to limit the geographic scope of the TRO. The Fifth Circuit has held that such a fragmented immigration policy would run afoul of the constitutional and statutory requirement for uniform immigration law and policy."
  • "The First Amendment prohibits any “law respecting an establishment of religion.” U.S. Const. amend. I. A law that has a religious, not secular, purpose violates that clause,Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971), as does one that “officially prefer[s] [one religious denomination] over another,” Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982). The Supreme Court has explained that this is because endorsement of a religion “sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 310 (2000) (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring)). The Equal Protection Clause likewise prohibits the Government from impermissibly discriminating among persons based on religion. De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 50 (9th Cir. 1978)."
  • The States have offered evidence of numerous statements by the President about his intent to implement a “Muslim ban” as well as evidence they claim suggests that the Executive Order was intended to be that ban, including sections 5(b) and 5(e) of the Order.
  • "Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence to rebut the States’ argument" 
  • “It is well established that the deprivation of constitutional rights ‘unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.’”( Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990, 1002 (9th Cir. 2012) quoting Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976)
  • Case law that I really want to read more of:
    • Zadvydas v. Davis
    • INS v. Chadha
    • Kleindienst v. Mandel
    • United States v. Robel
    • Larson v. Valente
    • Melendres v. Arpaio

Ignoring National Security for Politics

This post contains my opinions. I attempt to cite facts and build a reasonable case, but I am always open to discussion and changing my mind.

382 law enforcement agencies were asked "What are the main violent extremist threats that your agency faces?"

Given the choice to select up to 3 options, the agencies overwhelmingly responded that anti-government violent extremism was their primary concern.

The DHS Countering Violent Extremism program is geared toward preventing violent extremism in all its forms. Reuters broke the story that the program will be renamed and focus solely on Islamic Extremism.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are nearly 900 right-wing extremist groups in the United States. These active hate groups will no longer be monitored under the CVE program.

While we must continue to combat Extremism wherever it arises, by categorically removing the most common and identifiable forms of extremism from the CVE mandate the president exposes the American populace to danger needlessly.

There is no clear reason to do such a thing, when law enforcement agencies tell us that anti-government violent extremism is a far more pressing priority.

Denying simple facts, without an eye toward the real-world applications and effects is a pattern of this fledgling administration thus far. I find myself unable to describe the actions through any lens other than a dogmatic, and systematic Islamophobia.

This is no small charge. And I do not take it lightly. Religious phobia--the malicious and willful kind that I am speaking of--denies people their individuality in favor of discrimination based on religion. It is fundamentally undemocratic because it assumes guilt--both by association and by default.

Please allow me to build my case.

Thesis: Donald Trump's administration is actively Islamophobic
  • Donald Trump called for a Muslim ban during the campaign.
  • Excuses as to why the current ban is not a Muslim ban have been dispelled by his own cabinet members--specifically Rudy Giuliani.
  • Stated reasons for preventing terrorism through the ban do not stand up to scrutiny; see map below:

Conclusion: The administration is unable to differentiate ordinary people from violent extremists. This conclusion casts an overly broad net against innocent people. The policies also actively ignore hate groups that would seek to also target innocent people. 

Donald Trump's Islamophobia is a security risk to America. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hans Rosling's Powerful Message: A Fact-Based Worldview

Hans Rosling was an incredible data scientist; a storyteller that brought data to the people.

His project, Gapminder, announced his tragic passing on February 7, 2017. I urge readers to consider donating to their cause.

Last night I watched one of his most famous Ted Talks, a stirring presentation on the power of data.

If you have 20 minutes. Prepare to sit back and have your worldview challenged. For just a minute and 25 seconds of your life, watch the short clip above.

Data and facts have always been important to acting with compassion in a cold-hearted world. I love watching him enthusiastically argue that more and better data can result in a better world with better outcomes. His was the conviction of someone who worked hard to discern the truth and present that truth to the public openly.

Watching his presentation, I found myself moved by what was obviously years of hard work and analysis. At the end of the Ted Talk, he implores the data community to make their data available and share their insights with the world.

There is a large and growing community of avid data scientists out there. Tools such as Gapminder, D3.js, and (of course) Tableau Public allow people to find and share insights. Data literacy is an essential skill that more people are learning to develop. The rise of infographics and potent data journalism deliver stories in a few words and helpful graphics.

At its core, data visualization and literacy are just another form of communication. And I was struck by the simplicity with which Hans Rosling was able to make data come alive with just a scatterplot and an area chart.

It reminded me that we are often stuck pursuing the shiny new thing--artificial intelligence, natural language processing, automated analysis--but often fail to pause and simply put in the hard work of analyzing what is already before us. And finally, that we forget to share those insights with the world.

The data Hans shows is freely available. The visualizations are simple and common. There is still a ton of insight to be found in everyday data if we only roll up our sleeves and make the time to find the nuances.

Good data science is objective in its collection and analysis, deeply passionate and meaningful in its application, never reversed.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NYC Saves Water

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Top Line: Week of 1/29/2017

The Top Line is a list of true statements derived from this week's news. Instead of dissecting the dissembling statements of news makers the Top Line endeavors to present the true statement up front. Context is provided in the links.