First, H.R. McMaster and John Dowd are out. John Bolton and Joseph diGenova are in. The common theme: President Trump is replacing advisers who tried to moderate him with those who play to his worst impulses.
Kelly Magsamen, a former government official, called Bolton’s job — national security adviser — “by far the most important national security position in our government” because “this person is the one in charge of shaping and framing national security decisions for the President.” She added that “Bolton has no moderating tendencies.”
Republicans vs. democracy. The biggest problem in American politics is the extremism of the Republican Party.
The Democrats certainly have their problems, but they pale by comparison. Large numbers of Republican voters hold beliefs that are simply false (climate change is a hoax, Barack Obama is a Kenyan, Robert Mueller is Democratic partisan). Trump, meanwhile, flouts the rule of law, while Republican leaders in Congress try to pass major legislation largely in secret.
I’ve argued that conservatives aghast at these developments should vote against their party in order to reclaim it. Republican leaders won’t abandon their extremism if they keep winning. In a mini-essay on Twitter, Noah Smith of Bloomberg View takes on the same issue but from a different angle: He says that the answer is expanding voting rights so that more Americans have the opportunity to vote against Republican extremism.
“The #1 policy priority for Democrats at both the state and federal levels should not be universal health care, gun control, climate change, etc.,” Smith wrote. “It should be democracy.”
Smith argues that voting restrictions have been crucial to the Republican Party’s extremist success. “Since the 90s, as Hispanics (and Asians) grew as a % of the U.S. population, one faction of the GOP wanted to court them. A second faction wanted to keep the party a white ethnic party. The second faction, sadly, won,” he writes.
“Instead of toning down white identity politics to court Hispanics and Asians, the GOP decided to: 1) turn up the identity politics; 2) deport as many nonwhite immigrants as possible; 3) use voting restrictions and gerrymandering to win with a minority of votes.”
But this strategy won’t continue to work if larger numbers of minorities begin voting. To Smith’s good points, I’d add that laws aren’t the only problem. Voter turnout among Latinos and Asian-Americans is low for a complicated mix of reasons, some of which are unrelated to Republican malfeasance.
Whatever the cause of the current situation, though, a rise in minority turnout could transform politics. In that case, “the GOP will be forced to reboot itself with a new ethos and a new message that appeals to Hispanic and Asian voters (black voters probably being out of reach for them no matter what),” Smith writes. “Ultimately, the reason to focus on democracy is to help the Republicans go sane again.”
Programming note. I’ll be away next week, but the newsletter will continue. My colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick will give you a couple of reading suggestions based on the day’s news. I will also have an item in each day’s newsletter, writing about a topic that I find important but haven’t found room to mention in the newsletter so far, given the pace of news.
Although less common, developmental disorders and psychotic disorders in children can have a lifelong impact on the child and his or her family.
As in any age group, there tends to be no single cause for mental illness in children.
In addition to the specific symptoms of each mental disorder, children with a psychiatric illness can exhibit signs that are specific to their age and developmental status.
Establishing the diagnosis of a mental illness in children usually involves the combination of comprehensive medical, developmental, and mental-health assessments.
There are a variety of treatments available for managing mental illness in children, including several effective medications, educational or occupational interventions, as well as specific forms of psychotherapy.
Children with mental-health problems can have lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and fewer stable placements in the child welfare system than their peers.
Attempts at prevention of childhood mental illness tend to address both specific and nonspecific risk factors, strengthen protective factors, and use an approach that is appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
Research on mental illness in children is focused on a number of issues, including increasing the understanding of how often these illnesses occur, the risk factors, most effective treatments, and how to improve the access that children have to those treatments.
Quick GuideWhat’s Your Biggest Fear? Phobias
What are the most common mental illnesses in children?
Mental disorders in children are quite common and sometimes severe. About one-fourth of children and teens experience some type of mental disorder in any given year, one-third at some time in their lives. The most common kind of mental disorders are anxietydisorders, like overanxious disorder of childhood or separation anxiety disorder. Other common types of mental illnesses in childhood include behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders like depression, and substance-use disorders like alcohol use disorders. Statistics indicate how relatively common these disorders occur. ADHD affects 8%-10% of school-aged children. Depressionoccurs at a rate of about 2% during childhood and from 4%-7% during adolescence, affecting up to about 20% of adolescents by the time they reach adulthood. In teens more frequently than in younger children, addictions, bipolar disorder, and less often early onset schizophrenia may manifest.
Although not as commonly occurring, developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorders can have a significant lifelong impact on the life of the child and his or her family. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that is characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Statistics about autism include that it afflicts one out of every 88 children, a 78% increase in the past 10 years.
What are causes and risk factors for mental illness in children?
As is the case with most mental-health disorders at any age, such disorders in children do not have one single definitive cause. Rather, people with these illnesses tend to have a number of biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that contribute to their development. Biologically, mental illnesses tend to be associated with abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine in the brain, a decrease in the size of some areas of the brain, as well as increased activity in other areas of the brain. Girls are more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders like depression and anxiety compared to boys, while disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders are more often assigned to boys. Gender differences in mental illness are thought to be the result of, among other things, a combination of biological differences based on gender, as well as the differences in how girls are encouraged to interpret their environment and respond to it compared to boys. There is thought to be at least a partially genetic contribution to the fact that children and adolescents with a mentally ill parent are up to four times more likely to develop such an illness themselves. Teens who develop a mental disorder are also more prone to having had other biological challenges, like low birth weight, trouble sleeping, and having a mother younger than 18 years old at the time of their birth.
Psychological risk factors for mental illness in children include low self-esteem, poor body image, a tendency to be highly self-critical, and feeling helpless when dealing with negative events. Teen mental disorders are somewhat associated with the stress of body changes, including the fluctuating hormones of puberty, as well as teen ambivalence toward increased independence, and with changes in their relationships with parents, peers, and others. Teenagers who suffer from conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical anxiety, or who have cognitive and learning problems, as well as trouble relating to others are at higher risk of also developing a mental disorder.
Childhood mental illness may be a reaction to environmental stresses, including trauma like being the victim of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, school problems, or being the victim of bullying or peer pressure. Gay teens are at higher risk for developing mental disorders like depression, thought to be because of the bullying by peers and potential rejection by family members. Children in military families have been found to be at risk for experiencing depression as well.
The aforementioned environmental risk factors tend to specifically predispose individuals to childhood mental illness. Other risk factors tend to predispose people to developing a mental disorder at any age. Such nonspecific risk factors include a history of poverty, exposure to violence, having an antisocial peer group, or being socially isolated, abuse victimization, parental conflict, and family dissolution. Children who have low physical activity, poor academic performance, or lose a relationship are at higher risk for mental illness as well.
What are symptoms and signs of mental illness in children?
Children with mental illness may experience the classic symptoms of their particular disorder but may exhibit other symptoms as well, including
poor school performance;
frequent complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches;
behaviors returning to those of a younger age (regressing), like bedwetting, throwing tantrums, or becoming clingy;
more risk-taking behaviors and/or showing less concern for their own safety.
Examples of risk-taking behaviors include running into the street, climbing too high, engaging in physical altercations, or playing with unsafe items.
How is mental illness in children diagnosed?
Many health-care professionals may help make the diagnosis of a mental illness in children, including licensed mental-health therapists, pediatricians or other primary-care providers, emergency physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers. One of these professionals will likely conduct an extensive medical interview and physical examination or refer the child for those assessments as part of establishing the diagnosis.
Childhood mental illnesses may be associated with a number of other medical conditions or can be a side effect of various medications. For this reason, routine laboratory tests are often performed during the initial evaluation to rule out other causes of symptoms. Occasionally, an X-ray, scan, or other imaging study may be needed. As part of this examination, the child and his or her parents may be asked a series of questions from a standardized questionnaire or self-test to help further assess symptoms. The use of screening tools is particularly important for detecting early signs of mental illness in infants and toddlers, due to their being largely preverbal in their communication.
What is the treatment for mental illness in children?
There are a variety of treatments available for managing mental illnesses in children, including several effective medications, educational or occupational interventions, as well as specific forms of psychotherapy. In terms of medications, medications from specific drug classes are used to treat childhood mental illness. Examples include the stimulant class for treating ADHD, serotonergic medications for treating depression and anxiety, and neuroleptic medications for management of severe mood swings, anxiety, aggression, or in the treatment of childhood schizophrenia.
For individuals who may be wondering how to manage the symptoms of a childhood mental illness using treatment without prescribed medications, psychotherapies are often used. While interventions like limiting exposure to food additives, preservatives, and processed sugars have been found to be helpful for some people with an illness like ADHD, the research evidence is still considered to be too limited for many physicians to recommend nutritional interventions. Also, placing such restrictions on the eating habits of a child or teenager can prove to be difficult at best, nearly impossible at worst.
Psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) is a form of mental-health counseling that involves working with a trained therapist to figure out ways to solve problems and cope with childhood emotional disorders. It can be a powerful intervention, even producing positive biochemical changes in the brain. Two major approaches are commonly used to treat childhood mental illness, interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In general, these therapies take weeks to months to complete. Each has a goal of alleviating symptoms. More intense psychotherapy may be needed for longer time periods when treating very severe mental illness.
The behavioral, educational/vocational, and psychotherapy components of treatment for childhood mental illnesses are usually at least as important as the medication treatment. Dealing with the specific challenges that mentally ill children present takes patience, understanding, and a balance of structure and flexibility. One kind of psychotherapy used to treat children with mental illness is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy seeks to help those with many different kinds of psychiatric disorders identify and decrease the irrational thoughts and behaviors that reinforce maladaptive behaviors. This therapy can be administered either individually or in group therapy. CBT that seeks to help the sufferer of many childhood mental illnesses may decrease the tendency of the depressed or anxious child to pay excessive attention to potential threats, while helping the child with ADHD appropriately refocus their attention.
Behavioral techniques that are often used to decrease symptoms in children with behavioral disorders like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder or to help children with anxiety disorders like separation anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder involve the parents, teacher, and other adult caretakers understanding the circumstances surrounding both positive and negative behaviors and how each kind of behavior is encouraged and discouraged. Specifically, learning when and where specific behaviors occur can go a long way toward understanding how to encourage the behavior to happen again if it’s positive or extinguishing it if the behavior is negative. Being aware of how the reactions of others contribute to a behavior’s continuing or not continuing tend to help the child with a behavior disorder shape their behaviors more positively. Also, developing a fair, meaningful, and effective repertoire of ways to encourage positive behaviors and provide consequences for negative behaviors is a key component of any behavior-management plan and therefore in parenting children with behavioral disorders.
Often, a combination of medication and nonmedication interventions produces good results in helping the child with a mental illness. Depending on the illness, the length of time it existed before treatment starts, as well as the course of treatment deemed most appropriate, improvement may be noticed in a fairly short period of time, from two to three weeks to several months. Thus, appropriate treatment for mental illness can relieve symptoms or at least substantially reduce their severity and frequency, bringing significant relief to many children. There are also things that families of children with a mental illness can do to help make treatment more effective. Tips to better manage symptoms of most childhood mental-health problems include getting adequate sleep, having a healthy diet, and having the support and encouragement of parents and teachers.
If symptoms indicate that your child is suffering from mental illness, the health-care professional will likely strongly recommend treatment. Treatment may include addressing any medical conditions that cause or worsen the psychiatric symptoms. For example, an individual who is depressed and found to have low levels of thyroid hormone might receive hormone replacement with levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl). It may be found that a hyperactive, anxious, or psychotic child is having a reaction to a medication. Other components of treatment may be supportive therapy, such as changes in lifestyle and behavior, psychotherapy, and may include medication for moderate to severe mental illness. If symptoms are severe enough to warrant treatment with medication, symptoms tend to improve faster and for longer when medication treatment is combined with psychotherapy.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This helps to alleviate symptoms of mood disorders like anxiety and depression and helps the sufferer develop more effective skills for coping with relationships. IPT employs two strategies to achieve these goals:
The first is educating the child and family about the nature of their illness. The therapist will emphasize that depression is a common illness and that most people can expect to get better with treatment.
The second is defining problems (such as abnormal grief, interpersonal conflicts, or having significant anxiety when meeting new people). After the problems are defined, the therapist is able to help set realistic goals for solving these problems and work with the child and his or her family using various treatment techniques to reach these goals.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This has been found to be effective as part of treatment for childhood mental illness. This approach helps to alleviate depression, anxiety, and some behavioral problems and reduce the likelihood that symptoms will come back by helping the child change his or her way of thinking about or otherwise reacting to certain issues. In CBT, the therapist uses three techniques to accomplish these goals:
Didactic component: This phase helps to set up positive expectations for therapy and promote the child’s cooperation with the treatment process.
Cognitive component: This helps to identify the thoughts and assumptions that influence the child’s behaviors, particularly those that may predispose the sufferer to having the emotional or behavioral symptoms that they have.
Behavioral component: This employs behavior-modification techniques to teach the child more effective strategies for dealing with problems.
Most practitioners will continue treatment of a mental illness for at least six months. Treatment for children with a mental illness can have a significantly positive effect on the child’s functioning with peers, family, and at school. Without treatment, symptoms tend to last much longer and may never get better. In fact, they may get worse. With treatment, chances of recovery are much improved.
The major type of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication prescribed for children is the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRI medications affect levels of serotonin in the brain. For many prescribing doctors, these medications are the first choice because of the high level of effectiveness and general safety of this group of medicines. Examples of medications in this class that are approved for use in children are listed here. The generic name is first, with the brand name in parentheses.
The medications available for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have slightly different effects from individual to individual, and currently no way exists to tell which will work best. Medications indicated for ADHD are thought to work by improving the imbalance of neurochemicals that are thought to contribute to ADHD. Some commonly prescribed medications include the following:
Treatment of bipolar disorder with medications tends to address two aspects: relieving already existing symptoms of mania or depression and preventing symptoms from returning. Medications that are thought to be particularly effective in treating manic and mixed symptoms and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children (in children 10 years of age and older) include
For treatment of irritability in individuals with autism spectrum disorder, Risperdal has been FDA approved in children 5 years of age and older, while Abilify has been approved in children 6 years of age and older.
Where can parents find information or support groups for mental illness in children?
AT&T Park in San Francisco has it all. See how it ranked out of the 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Spring is in the air, so baseball cannot be far behind. This year, Major League Baseball will see its earliest start, with all 30 teams playing on March 29. It will be the first time that all teams have played on Opening Day since 1968.
Fans will flock to all 30 of MLB’s ballparks from Opening Day until the dog days of summer shift into fall. While taking in baseball is a bonding experience for friends and family over the summer, not all ballparks in the league are created equal.
With the Atlanta Braves having opened their new ballpark last season, it’s time to look at all 30 and say which team has the best and which has the worst across them all. As with any ranking, it’s a subjective assessment, and which teams I have in certain places may not match your picks. I’ll be looking to have that discussion on Twitter.
For my methodology, I looked at the overall aesthetics of the ballpark design, including integration with additional structures, such as in Baltimore and San Diego; its setting; the visuals from within the seating bowl or surrounding views; the amenities offered at the facility; historic relevance; and external development that adds to the experience.
At the top of the list is AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants. Located on the Bay, where balls hit out to right field land in McCovey Cove, it’s a gem, with great views of downtown, activity around the ballpark and trolley access. And while Candlestick Park, the former home of the Giants, could be as cold and windy as any place in the league, the AT&T Park location largely dodges this. Summer day games are beyond glorious.
Rounding out the top 5 are Busch Stadium, thanks to the incredible views of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis; Dodger Stadium, with its classic view of Chavez Ravine and the fact that it feels very modern despite being the third-oldest ballpark in all of MLB; and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which has a view that might be the most stunning in all of baseball, with a view of the iconic Roberto Clemente Bridge and downtown.
At the back of the pack, unsurprisingly, the 30th- and 29th-ranked ballparks are ones the league and their clubs have desperately looked to replace for over a decade. Coming in dead last is Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. It is the league’s only remaining dome with no retractable roof, which makes the ballpark experience call to mind being inside a fluted cow pie and is in a far-from-optimal location. It all adds up to an aesthetic that is no longer seen as in line with any of the others in the league.
Just behind the Trop is Oakland-Alameda Co. Coliseum, home of the Athletics. With its aging, cookie-cutter design, it would have been bad off with its decaying interior. But the seating for the Oakland Raiders — nicknamed Mt. Davis after former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis — also blocked the view of the Oakland Hills.
Rounding out the bottom five are Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, which, despite being the original ballpark in the wave of new designs, never had any charm compared with OPACY (which came just after); No. 27 Chase Field, which, while a retractable roof was mandatory in sweltering Phoenix, feels more like an airplane hangar inside; and Marlins Park comes in at No. 26. While the modern design fits in with Miami and broke from a long line of retro designs that had become tired, the color scheme, fish tanks behind home plate and home run sculpture, which I describe as “Busby Berkeley on acid,” make the experience more tacky than grand.
Below is the ranking of all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball. It includes the year they opened, type of roof (or lack thereof), design type, and primary architect.
San Francisco, CA
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Busch Stadium III
St. Louis, MO
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Los Angeles, CA
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
James McLaughlin, Renovation
Kansas City, MO
Kivett and Myers, Renovation (1997, 2008) by HOK Sports (now, Populous)
San Diego, CA
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Zachary Taylor Davis
New Yankee Stadium
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Globe Life Park in Arlington
David M. Schwarz
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Citizens Bank Park
Ewing Cole Cherry Brott
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Minute Maid Park
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Great American Ball Park
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Noble W. Herzberg and Associates, Renovation (1998) by HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Guaranteed Rate Field
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Oakland-Alameda Co. Coliseum
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Renovation (1995-96) by HNTB
St. Petersburg, FL
HOK Sports (now, Populous)
Maury Brown is the owner of Bizball, LLC, a research and analytics company, as well as a member of the BBWAA. Follow him on Twitter @BizballMaury or on Facebook.
The story from Tempe, Ariz., is terrible. A woman crossing a street outside the boundaries of a crosswalk — something that many of us do — was hit by a driverless Uber car and killed. The car’s computer may have lacked the ability to recognize a person where a person wasn’t technically supposed to be, and Uber’s emergency driver in the car evidently failed to override the computer.
For the victim’s friends and family, there are no larger lessons, only tragedy. For the rest of us, however, the larger lessons are vital. We need to figure out how to avoid future tragedies, given the increasing use of driverless cars.
To me, there are two main lessons:
First, driverless-car companies should redouble their efforts on safety. Uber — which has a track record of arrogance — did the right thing by suspending driverless tests in Arizona and elsewhere until it understands what went wrong. It shouldn’t focus only on the specific issues in the Tempe crash. The company should also ask what other lurking problems may exist.
Second, everyone — policymakers, the media, the public — should recognize how the Tempe crash may feed a dangerous pattern of irrationality: Human beings are quick to rationalize their own errors and quick to obsess over a machine’s errors. As Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania told me yesterday, “People punish the machine more harshly for mistakes than they do humans.”
When a machine makes an error, human beings are reluctant to use it again, as research by Massey and others has shown. When people make a mistake, they often persuade themselves that they know how to avoid repeating it — even when there is abundant evidence that they don’t, and they will go on repeating it. Sometimes, machines are more reliable than people, but people still insist on being in control.
Human-driven cars kill more than 100 Americans on average each day. This country now has the most dangerous roads, per mile driven, of any affluent country. And less than 30 years ago, our roads were no more dangerous than those in any average affluent country.
Uber and the other driverless-car companies have a moral responsibility to make their products safer than they evidently are. The rest of us have a responsibility to realize that the status quo — human-driven cars killing 100 Americans each day — isn’t acceptable, either. Vehicle safety was a crisis long before driverless cars came along. I’m still hopeful that driverless cars are a big part of the solution. If they’re not, or they’re going to take a long time to go mainstream, we should take other steps to save lives.
For more: These twocolumns have some specific suggestions about improving vehicle safety.
Ben Hofer of the Hutterite Rockport Colony near Pendroy, Montana, is greeted by a Kangal in this 2013 photo. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. ranchers faced with growing threats from large apex predators like wolves and bears are finding it necessary to upgrade their own four-legged defenses in response.
Over the past several years, some 120 dogs imported from countries like Portugal, Bulgaria and Turkey have been sent to guard flocks of sheep in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. Throughout the test period, federal scientists have been keeping careful watch and logging data to see if these exotic large breeds can provide greater protection from predators.
“When we were first looking at doing this, a lot of people wanted to know: What dog do I use in dealing with wolves and grizzly bears?” Julie Young, a Utah-based research biologist with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Wildlife Research Center, told the AP.
That question has become more commonplace with U.S. livestock farmers as recovering populations of wolves and bears have increased beyond their protected borders. Traditional ranch dogs such as the Great Pyrenees, Akbash or Maremma Sheepdogs specialize in defending flocks against predators like coyotes and cougars, but those breeds are at a disadvantage against the more powerful and heavier wolf. To that end, the Department of Agriculture decided to research whether more robust, old world breeds might help close the gap.
“Farmers are sometimes skeptical at first, but once they see how these dogs work, they’re sold,” Tom Gehring, a biologist at Central Michigan University who has studied guard dogs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, told PRI. “Many people put them out and never have depredations again.”
The Cao de Gado Transmontanos originates from Portugal and is primarily used for flock and herd protection from wolves. (Photo: Joao Augusto/Flickr)
The three large breeds currently in service under a pilot program include the Cao de Gado Transmontanos (from the mountainous region of Portugal and weighing up to 141 pounds), the Karakachan (from the mountains of Bulgaria and weighing up to 120 pounds) and the Kangal (from Turkey, weighing up to 185 pounds).
According to Young, initial findings indicate that all three breeds perform well at keeping wolves away and excel beyond traditional guard dogs at deterring coyotes. The full results are expected to be published in several scientific papers over the next year.
Karakachans guarding sheep in Bulgaria. The dogs are known for their bravery in fighting back against both wolves and bears. (Photo: Semperviva/Wikimedia)
For environmentalists and animal activists, the use of new large breeds to help deter predation is good news for all living things. If a wolf or coyote is not killing sheep or other livestock, ranchers will feel less impetus to petition the Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services for a permit to shoot and kill the predator.
“If a producer has a tool that prevents predators from killing their sheep, there’s no reason to kill those predators, or to have them killed by a federal agency,” Young said.
This Kangal, a large livestock guardian dog from Turkey, remains on watch over a herd of cows. (Photo: Patrick Sinot/Flickr)
Perhaps the most important thing, however, is how good these breeds are at not only defending their territory but co-existing lovingly with their human hosts.
“They’re good with house guests and baby livestock, but don’t like thieves,” cattle rancher Vose Babcock, who uses Kangals to guard her cattle, told Outside in 2016. “They can fight off a wolf, mountain lion, or bear and then come home and be polite with grandparents and grandchildren.”
This is part of a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November. For part 1, on the importance of voting, go here.
The modern American crusade against voter fraud has always been propelled by faith. That is, an insistent belief in things unseen — things like voters who show up at the polls pretending to be someone else, or noncitizens who try to register and vote illegally.
Fraud like this is so rare as to be almost unmeasurable, and yet its specter has led to dozens of strict new laws around the country. Passed in the name of electoral integrity, the laws, which usually require voters to present photo IDs at the polls or provide proof of citizenship to register, make voting harder, if not impossible, for tens of thousands of people — disproportionately minorities and others who tend to vote Democratic.
The high priest of this faith-based movement is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate who has been preaching his gospel of deception to Republican lawmakers for years. He has won plenty of converts, even though he has failed to identify more than a tiny handful of possible cases of fraud. In his eight years as secretary of state, he has secured a total of nine convictions, only one of which was for illegal voting by a noncitizen; most were for double-voting by older Republican men.
For the past two weeks, however, Mr. Kobach has been forced to make his case in a far more rigorous setting — the fact-finding process of a federal trial. In a Kansas City courtroom, Mr. Kobach and his fellow true believers have struggled to defend a 2013 state law that requires prospective voters to prove their citizenship before they can register.
It has not gone well for Mr. Kobach. The lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kansas residents who were blocked from voting under the new law, contends that the legislation violates federal law, which requires only that prospective voters attest to their citizenship under penalty of perjury. Meanwhile, it disenfranchised tens of thousands of Kansans, who were disproportionately younger voters or voters with no party affiliation.
And how many noncitizens did the law stop from voting? Squint really hard. One would think that after all these years, Mr. Kobach would have something to show for his dogged efforts. Yet according to his own witnesses, Kansas, which has 1.8 million registered voters, has identified 129 noncitizens it says registered or tried to register since 2000. Of those 129 people, 11 actually voted, and it’s not clear how many of these cases represent intentional fraud, as opposed to honest mistakes or clerical errors. But Mr. Kobach is convinced, calling these findings “the tip of the iceberg.” If so, the iceberg is melting fast.
Mr. Kobach’s game may work with partisan lawmakers, but not with federal judges. At the beginning of the trial, Mr. Kobach, who is representing himself, tried to introduce what he said were new data on the number of Kansans whose voter registrations were suspended for lacking proof of citizenship. Judge Julie Robinson of Federal District Court said no, reminding him that the deadline for introducing pretrial evidence had passed the night before. “We’re not going to have a trial by ambush here,” the judge said when Mr. Kobach tried again a few days later.
How does it feel to have your papers out of order, Mr. Kobach?
Of course, restrictive voting laws like these have never been about protecting electoral integrity. They’re about keeping certain people away from the ballot box, often based on who they are — or are assumed to be. On Tuesday, one of Mr. Kobach’s witnesses, a political scientist, Jesse Richman, testified that up to 18,000 noncitizens have registered or tried to register in Kansas. When the A.C.L.U.’s lawyer asked him about his methods for analyzing the state’s list of suspended voters, Mr. Richman said that, among other things, he flagged foreign-sounding names. What about a name like “Carlos Murguia,” the lawyer asked. Would he flag that one? Yes, Mr. Richman said. He was then informed that Carlos Murguia is a federal district judge who sits in the courthouse where the trial is being held.
It all seems like a big joke until you remember that laws like these have already had their intended effect. In Kansas, more than 22,000 people who tried to register had their applications suspended or canceled for not having proof of citizenship. And in Wisconsin, which President Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes, a strict voter-ID law kept at least 17,000 voters from the polls in 2016.
Remember also that just days after the 2016 election, Mr. Kobach scored a meeting with President-elect Trump in which he urged the passage of a nationwide proof-of-citizenship requirement. A few months later, Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Kobach to lead his so-called election integrity commission. In January, after months of futility and infighting, the commission folded, having made no findings and issued no recommendations. No surprise there — there’s virtually nothing to find. There has been no epidemic of noncitizens voting, despite Mr. Trump’s baseless claim (endorsed by Mr. Kobach) that he lost the popular vote only because of millions of illegal voters. And there are hardly any examples of in-person voter fraud, the only kind that could conceivably be stopped by voter-ID laws. A federal judge once compared such lawsto using “a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table.”
Unfortunately, the courts have not always brought the appropriate degree of skepticism to these laws. The Supreme Court upheld the first voter-ID law it considered, in 2008, even though the Indiana lawmakers who passed it had not identified a single case of fraud that the law would have prevented. Former Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion in that case, later called it a “fairly unfortunate decision.” Richard Posner, a former federal appeals court judge who also upheld the Indiana law, later said that voter-ID laws are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”
More recently, courts have gotten better about questioning the evidence and rationale for these laws, striking down some of the strictest ones, in Texas and North Carolina, for deliberately discriminating against minority voters. That’s the right approach. These laws masquerade as common-sense measures, but they are in truth anti-democratic shams, and it is gratifying to see them unravel in the harsh light of a federal courtroom.
Russian hackers are conducting a broad assault on the U.S. electric grid, water processing plants, air transportation facilities and other targets in rolling attacks on some of the country’s most sensitive infrastructure, U.S. government officials said Thursday.
The announcement was the first official confirmation that Russian hackers have taken aim at facilities on which hundreds of millions of Americans depend for basic services. Bloomberg News reported in July that Russian hackers had breached more than a dozen power plants in seven states, an aggressive campaign that has since expanded to dozens of states, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Critical manufacturing sectors and commercial facilities also have been targeted by the ongoing “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors.”
Cyber-attacks are “literally happening hundreds of thousands of times a day,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers during a hearing Thursday. “The warfare that goes on in the cyberspace is real, it’s serious, and we must lead the world.”
Separately Thursday, the U.S. sanctioned a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm,” two Russian intelligence services, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian citizens and businesses indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of meddling with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A joint analysis by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security described the hackers as extremely sophisticated, in some cases first breaching suppliers and third-party vendors before hopping from those networks to their ultimate target. The government’s report did not say how successful the attacks were.
The Russian hackers “targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” according to the Homeland Security alert.
An industry-government partnership provided potential indicators of compromise for electric companies following Thursday’s announcement, said Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness at the utility trade group Edison Electric Institute. The federal government alerted grid operators to a threat targeting the energy and manufacturing sectors last summer, but the incident didn’t affect operations, he said.
The hackers deliberately selected targets and methodically went after initial victims as a way to reach their ultimate prizes, including industrial control systems used by power plants and other infrastructure. Their tactics included sending spear-phishing emails and embedding malicious content on informational websites to obtain security credentials they could then leverage for more information and access.
And once they obtained access, the attackers “conducted network reconnaissance,” and moved within the systems to collect information on industrial control systems.
The government’s alert on Russian cyber-attacks does not cover suspected meddling by the country in the 2016 election.
An October report by researchers at Symantec Corp., cited by the U.S. government Thursday, linked the attacks to a group of hackers it had code-named Dragonfly, and said it found evidence critical infrastructure facilities in Turkey and Switzerland also had been breached.
The Symantec researchers said an earlier wave of attacks by the same group starting in 2011 was used to gather intelligence on companies and their operational systems. The hackers then used that information for a more advanced wave of attacks targeting industrial control systems that, if disabled, leave millions without power or water.
The disclosure comes amid mounting calls from lawmakers to step up protection of the nation’s electric grid. Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pushed for a cyberthreat assessment of the grid last year, to better defend the infrastructure against potential attacks.
“I hope today’s belated response is the first step in a robust and aggressive strategy to protect our critical infrastructure,” Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state, said in an emailed statement.
U.S. intelligence officials have long been concerned about the security of the country’s electrical grid. The recent attacks, striking almost simultaneously at multiple locations, are testing the government’s ability to coordinate an effective response among several private utilities, state and local officials, and industry regulators.
The operating systems at nuclear plants also tend to be legacy controls built decades ago and don’t have digital control systems that can be exploited by hackers.
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