Category Archives: Politics

Hints about the future of rural America?

I thought these observations gleaned from recent news stories, were worth sharing. They arrived in emails from someone who comments as “Compare Decide”.

The good news is that JC Penney has made its first profit since 2010.

The bad news is that they have decided to close up to 140 stores.

The worse news is that this will probably trigger the closing of many struggling shopping malls.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-to-close-130-to-140-stores-sales-dip-2017-02-24-12485289

Most of these articles on this subject frame it in terms of the rise of online shopping, or the executive mistakes of the past.

But it has been little noted that these store closings are in rural areas.

The story of the century is the decline, obsolescence and doom of small towns and outside suburbs, and so few seem to see this pattern.
….

But back in September of 2016, an optimistic JC Penney was planning on replacing Sears and Macy’s.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-rise-of-jc-penney-20160826-story.html

Some of J.C. Penney’s most profitable locations turned out to be small stores in rural areas where the retailer pays almost no rent; two California stores opening this year will be completely funded by the landlord.

A less happy story from yesterday.

http://news.morningstar.com/all/dow-jones/us-markets/201702248502/jc-penney-to-close-more-than-100-stores-3rd-update.aspx

Penney on Friday eked out its first annual profit since 2010, but executives said they were closing weaker stores so they could focus their investments on revamping those in stronger markets. Penney said it would identify the locations that are set to close next month, though executives said many were smaller stores in rural locations.

Geography is critical.

Optimism is still evident in some parts of the retail industry.

But another mall giant, Gap Inc., posted higher comparable quarterly sales for the first time in two years. “If you read the headlines today, you’ll see the words dead, dying, sick. We are none of those,” CEO Art Peck told investors late Thursday. “We are healthy and strong and have a plan and clear direction.”

Um, that’s what JC Penney was saying last year….

Column examines issues of proposed new jail and prison

The state and the legislature are approaching decisions on the future of our prison system on two separate tracks.

Just how this process is unfolding was the subject of my Civil Beat column this week (“Ian Lind: Count On Hawaii To Ignore Logical Prison Report/In the rush to build a new prison, the Legislature is likely to shunt aside the work of a task force it created just last year“).

On the one hand, the legislature last year approved over $5 million for planning of a replacement for the aging Oahu Community Correctional Center, the state’s largest jail. And a new bill moving ahead this year calls for setting aside that plan, and instead beginning planning on a new and much larger prison. The current prison at Halawa would then be used as the new jail. That new plan got the quick endorsement of the head of the state’s prison system, despite the obvious problem that facilities are normally designed around their intended functions, and so the design of the current prison is much different than what is needed in a jail. And a new larger prison is likely to cost upwards of $1 BILLION, a figure likely to make even stalwart proponents gasp.

But last year’s legislature also created a task force charged with reviewing correctional “best practices” in use elsewhere that could be used to reduce Hawaii’s jail and prison population, allowing any new facilities to be downsized rather than enlarged. The task force, unfortunately, was not endowed with any budget, but has been meeting since last June without benefit of funding.

The task force has released an interim report, with its final report and recommendations due prior to the opening of the 2018 legislative session. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s my brief summary:

“To improve outcomes and bring costs under control, Hawaii must chart a new course and transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional model,” the task force says in its preliminary report. The move is driven by “the fact that all but a few of the men and women who go to prison will one day return to the community.” Therefore, the task force says, the question for public policy is how to use their time in prison to shape their lives for the better and change the behavior that landed them in prison.

The report proposes moving away from viewing prison as punishment and instead treating incarcerated persons “with aloha” as a core value.

One key is education and training for prison and jail workers, and the task force recommends creation of a corrections academy for employees in both the executive and judicial branches.

It recommends setting targets for reducing the prison population through diversion programs, bail reform and efficiencies in processing pre-trial detainees, and “focused, evidenced-based rehabilitative programs for those in prison.”

“The question should not be how large a new jail needs to be, but how small the jail can be with successful diversion programs? Overbuilding would be one of the worst mistakes the State could make,” the report states.

In any case, a messy issue. Check my take in Civil Beat. Feel free to comment here.

Honolulu Ethics Commission finds no conflicts in legal campaign support from special interests

Back in September 2015, I examined assertions being made by Kioni Dudley that ethics laws required Honolulu City Council members who received significant contributions from development interests, or who benefited from the independent activities of Super Pacs supporting the development of Hoopili, to recuse themselves from decisions regarding the development, which Dudley has strongly opposed. He suggested that the votes could be voided as a result of their failure to recuse themselves.

At the time, I described his view as an interesting theory, but one that was not supported by a clear reading of the law. Essentially, the city ethics provisions explicitly allows council members to solicit and accept legal campaign contributions. And as to the independent activities of Super Pacs, candidates could not be required to disclose those because, by definition, any such expenditures are independent of the candidates.

Yesterday the Honolulu Ethics Commission issued two opinions which generally agreed with my assessment of the two issues raised.

Advisory Opinion 2017-1 found that independent expenditures by Super Pacs do not create a conflict of interest for council members who benefit from their activities because “they are made without the coordination of a candidate or a candidate’s campaign and are therefore too attenuated.”

The opinion quotes from a federal court decision in the case of Yamada v. Kuramoto.

Although the government might still limit contributions made directly to candidates or parties, “the need for contribution limitations to combat corruption or the appearance thereof tends to decrease as the link between the candidate and the regulated entity becomes more attenuated.” If the organization receiving contributions truly engages in only independent expenditures, the link is not only attenuated—it is broken. An anti-corruption or appearance of corruption rationale is nonexistent.

Advisory Opinion 2017-2 addresses the issue whether a candidate who receives 40% or more of their campaign contributions from a special interest group has a conflict of interest as a result of those contributions.

The commission found that the matter is beyond their jurisdiction “because campaign contributions, regardless of amount, are specifically excluded from said section.” That’s the same thing I pointed out back in my 2015 post.

Furthermore, the opinion properly notes that the Campaign Spending Commission has “primary and exclusive jurisdiction over campaign issues,” and so the campaign laws preempt the kinds of issues Dudley has raised.

Fraudulent link between vaccines and autism continues to damage public health

There was a good article in the Washington Post today looking at the continuing public debate over use of vaccines to combat childhood diseases (“Trump energizes the anti-vaccine movement in Texas“).

The Post is no longer holding back in its news reporting on such issues.

For example:

President Trump’s embrace of discredited theories linking vaccines to autism has energized the anti-vaccine movement. Once fringe, the movement is becoming more popular, raising doubts about basic childhood health care among politically and geographically diverse groups.

Public health experts warn that this growing movement is threatening one of the most successful medical innovations of modern times. Globally, vaccines prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million children every year, but deadly diseases such as measles and whooping cough still circulate in populations where enough people are unvaccinated.

Later in the article, the Post states directly: “The modern anti-vaccine movement is based on a fraud.” A study published almost 20 years ago purported to show a link between childhood vaccines and autism. The data was later found to be falsified, and the study was retracted.”

And there’s an important link to a report in thebjm discussing how the research that originally claimed a link between childhood vaccines and autism was rigged when the researchers were paid to come up with data to support a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. It was later shown the data were manipulated and rigged in order to show a relationship that didn’t actually exist.

See also:

“British Doctor Faked Data Linking Vaccines to Autism, and Aimed to Profit From It”, Popular Science, January 2011.

The research linking autism to vaccines is even more bogus than you think,” Vox.com, January 2017