- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Aug. 2

Los Angeles Times on white males benefiting from discriminatory college admissions policies

If the Trump administration really intends to examine discriminatory college-admission policies, as a New York Times report suggests, it had best be prepared for what it will find: A lot of white people who benefit from admission preferences that have been around far longer than affirmative action.

That reality may surprise this administration, which rode a wave of white resentment into office - a resentment its leadership continues to fan. On the other hand, President Trump is intimately familiar with the ways that college admissions practices aid members of the wealthy white establishment.

The three Trump children who attended the University of Pennsylvania were eligible for legacy preferences - the boost that most private colleges and universities give to the children of alumni. Overwhelmingly, it benefits white people.

So does the advantage of having a well-connected or famous relative. At the University of Texas at Austin, an investigation found that recommendations from state legislators and other influential people helped underqualified students gain acceptance to the school. This is the same school that had to defend its affirmative action program for racial minorities before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the program last year, ruling that universities may consider race as one of multiple factors in admissions.

According to a report in the New York Times on Wednesday, the Justice Department’s civil rights division plans to investigate and possibly sue colleges for admissions policies that it determines to be intentionally racially discriminatory. Though the details are unclear, the target seems to be affirmative action programs that help high-achieving students of color gain a leg up on admissions. The department almost certainly won’t be going after the ages-old policies that have long given white students the advantage - policies that this Justice Department might argue are only discriminatory in effect, not intent.

And those de facto advantages run deep. Beyond legacy and connections, consider good old money. “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges - and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates,” by Daniel Golden, details how the son of former Sen. Bill Frist was accepted at Princeton after his family donated millions of dollars. Businessman Robert Bass gave $25 million to Stanford University, which then accepted his daughter. And Jared Kushner’s father pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University, which then accepted the student who would become Trump’s son-in-law and advisor. The students may have won admission without their parents’ donations, but the contributions gave them an advantage that less well-heeled applicants couldn’t match.

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Selective colleges’ hunger for athletes also benefits white applicants above other groups. These recruited athletes typically “commit” to a university long before other students are even allowed to submit their applications. And once admitted, they generally under-perform, getting lower grades than other students, according to a 2016 report titled “True Merit” by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

“Moreover,” the report says, “the popular notion that recruited athletes tend to come from minority and indigent families turns out to be just false; at least among the highly selective institutions, the vast bulk of recruited athletes are in sports that are rarely available to low-income, particularly urban schools.” Those include students whose sports are crew, fencing, squash and sailing, sports that aren’t offered at public high schools. The thousands of dollars in private training is far beyond the reach of the working class.

If the Justice Department’s investigation seeks to create some sort of pure meritocracy, it will have to consider these and other questions. What is merit, after all, in academics? It has been defined in terms of grades and test scores, but what about perseverance, hard work and contributions to family, community and the world? For that matter, any investigation should be ready to find that white students are not the most put-upon group when it comes to race-based admissions policies. That title probably belongs to Asian American students who, because so many of them are stellar achievers academically, have often had to jump through higher hoops than any other students in order to gain admission.

Here’s another group, less well known, that has benefited from preferential admission policies: men. There are more qualified college applications from women, who generally get higher grades and account for more than 70% of the valedictorians nationwide. Seeking to create some level of gender balance, many colleges accept a higher percentage of the applications they receive from males than from females.

Affirmative action programs that give some consideration to black, Latino and Native American applicants aren’t bestowing a fabulous special privilege that elevates some races over others. They are attempting to level the playing field just a bit after their own admissions policies gave the edge to white students for generations, admissions policies that unaccountably and unfairly persist to this day.


Aug. 2

The Monterey County Herald on health insurance premium price hike

Was Tuesday’s announcement of higher Obamacare costs for Californians the implosion President Donald Trump has been forecasting?

Probably not, although there continue to be concerns about the viability of the marketplace and about Trump’s long-term intentions.

And there could be other price shocks coming as well, if Trump does what he tweets.

But for the 1.4 million Californians enrolled under Covered California (our state’s version of Obamacare), the announcement that monthly premiums for health insurance plans will rise by an average of 12.5 percent next year is bracing enough, even if the average might be misleading in that individual insurers may have lower rates.

Nor was it a confidence builder that Anthem Blue Cross said it would stop offering Covered California plans in most of the state, which will put about 10 percent of people insured through the exchange looking for a new plan. Unfortunately, that includes Anthem customers in Region 9, which encompasses Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. About 39 percent of people using the exchange are currently on Anthem’s plan, including more than 5,000 in Region 9. In Santa Cruz County about 1,360 residents with Anthem will be looking for new plans.

The average 12.5 percent increase is down just slightly from last year’s hike of more than 13 percent, which was a dramatic spike from the previous two years.

Covered California sells health plans to people who don’t get coverage from an employer or from Medicare or Medicaid. The exchange allows people to compare polices and collect a subsidy if they qualify based on income.

Tuesday’s news came following last week’s meltdown in the Senate after a Republican plan to rewrite key pieces of the Affordable Care Act collapsed amid intra-party bickering and division. Trump, who maintains the Obama health law is “imploding,” has repeated threats to end federal payments that insurers get to afford subsidies for lower-income consumers. This money helps offset high deductible and lower co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for poorer consumers.

“Californians are paying about 3 percent more than they would have if not for the uncertainty,” said Peter Lee, executive director of the state’s exchange.

California’s exchange has worked better than most, even with rising costs, with several competing plan options offered for consumers statewide. And, unlike a number of other states where options are dwindling, all 11 existing insurers will continue to provide coverage next year, even though Anthem is significantly reducing its presence, scaling back from 19 regions to just three.

Costs in the state tend to vary, depending on consolidation of hospitals and doctors. Consolidation reduces the effects of the competitive marketplace allowing health providers to demand higher payments from insurers.

Premiums for California consumers on “silver tier” plans, the most popular, could spike even more if the subsidies are taken away. About half of the people enrolled in Covered California choose the silver plan, the only one that incorporates cost saving subsidies. About 650,000 Californians are getting some sort of subsidy.

If Trump decides to end the subsidies, it could send many premiums soaring because health insurers would have to pick up those costs themselves. Experts say many insurers would simply pack up and leave the markets.

Trying to anticipate what will happen, Covered California devised a work-around for 2018, allowing insurers to artificially inflate the popular silver plan rates to cover the cost of cost-sharing reductions. But consumers enrolled in moderately priced silver plans whose rates are inflated should not be adversely impacted because their monthly subsidy - paid by the federal government - also would increase, Lee said.

Such is the state of confusion in the health care marketplace.


Aug. 1

The San Diego Union-Tribune on Wells Fargo latest scandal

In 2013, the Los Angeles Times broke the story of an immense scandal involving the fraudulent opening of accounts in customers’ names at Wells Fargo, the giant San Francisco-based bank which operates in all 50 states and has more than a quarter-million employees. Subsequent investigations showed that employees pressured to meet quotas on generating new business had opened up to 2.1 million unwanted checking, savings and credit-card accounts from 2011 to 2015. This led to a $185 million federal fine and a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that will cost the iconic California company at least $142 million.

The scandal led to the firing of about 5,300 sales agents and, eventually, the resignation of CEO John Stumpf. But a strong case can be made that the lower-level employees were scapegoated. Top managers set the new account quotas and tolerated mass fraud until caught by journalists.

Now there is more evidence that Wells Fargo has a corrupt corporate culture. The New York Times obtained an internal report showing that from 2012 to 2016, more than 800,000 people who got auto loans from the bank were charged for insurance they didn’t need, leading to more than 24,000 vehicles being repossessed and causing about 274,000 customers to become delinquent on their loans.

Another federal fine and a class-action lawsuit loom. But that’s not enough. For Wells Fargo to regain its once-hallowed reputation, shareholders need to send a stronger signal than the one they sent by re-electing all 15 of the bank’s directors at an annual meeting in April. It’s time for fresh blood.


Aug. 1

The Sacramento Bee on President Trump being primary purveyor of fake news

As he does many mornings, President Donald Trump tweeted a complaint Tuesday about the “Fake News” media.

But new allegations suggest that it’s Trump, himself, who is a primary purveyor of fake news.

Late Monday, The Washington Post reported that the president personally dictated a statement in which his son claimed that he and a Russian lawyer mostly discussed the adoption of Russian children and that their meeting wasn’t tied to the presidential race. That was a lie; Donald Trump Jr. later released emails showing he took the meeting after receiving an email promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign.

And Tuesday a lawsuit was filed that claims President Trump worked with Fox News to concoct a story that a Democratic National Committee staffer was killed in retaliation for giving damaging emails about Clinton to WikiLeaks. That story was a complete fabrication; U.S. intelligence says Russian hackers gave those emails to WikiLeaks.

These allegations about Trump, if proven, would be beyond disgraceful and could be devastating for Trump’s presidency.

If Trump purposely misled the public about his son’s meeting with Russians, that could provide compelling evidence of a cover-up to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign.

According to the Post, Trump’s advisers wanted to release a statement to get ahead of media reports about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, the Russian lawyer, a Russian-born lobbyist who is a former Soviet intelligence officer and a Russian-born financier.

But on the flight home July 8 from the G-20 economic summit in Germany, the president directed that the misleading statement be issued. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump “weighed in” on his son’s statement “like any father would,” but said it was accurate.

Sanders also denied Tuesday that Trump or the White House was involved or had any knowledge of the Fox News story at the center of the lawsuit. Fox News also denies the allegations in the suit but was forced to retract the story.

It was irresponsible and breathtakingly cruel to the family of Seth Rich, whose July 2016 slaying on a Washington, D.C., street is still unsolved. Twelve days after his death, WikiLeaks dumped thousands of emails embarrassing to the DNC. The timing and circumstances fueled conspiracy theories, but it was Fox News that brought them into the mainstream. Sean Hannity repeatedly flogged the story, and only relented after a plea from Rich’s family.

The lawsuit was filed by Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by the Rich family and an occasional Fox News contributor. Wheeler claims that Fox News made up his quotes in the story supporting its premise and that Trump wanted the story put out to divert attention from the Russia investigation.

The lawsuit includes a screen shot of a purported text message to Wheeler from Ed Butowsky, a Trump backer and Fox News contributor, on May 14, two days before the story was published: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. but don’t feel the pressure.”

Also, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has told NPR that Butowsky and Wheeler briefed him on the story a month before it was published.

Trump can call the Russia probe a witch hunt all he wants, and blame it all on Democrats and the media. But in May, he fired FBI Director James Comey and acknowledged it was because of how Comey was handling the Russia investigation. In June, Trump went after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel. And last week, the president attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the inquiry.

If there’s nothing there, why does Trump keep acting as if there is?


July 28

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal on the year of the bear encounters

One of the great things about living in the Santa Clarita Valley is that we have the best of both worlds - we live next to the second-largest city in the United States yet in our community we are surrounded by wildland.

Some of our homes adjoin this open space. It’s a beautiful place to live.

But with wildland comes wildlife.

Each summer seems to bring to the Santa Clarita Valley a new round of encounters with wildlife. One year it might be rattlesnakes; another might be mountain lions or bobcats.

This year it’s definitely American Black Bears, which have been making appearances in larger numbers than usual in Newhall and Stevenson Ranch. (Experts assure us they’re black bears even if they look brown.) They have been seen near freeways, running in lanes on city streets and in residents’ backyards.

Because it has been very warm this summer and because of hillsides denuded by vegetation during fall fires, grass and natural vegetation have been especially scarce, luring bears into town looking for food and the occasional dip in a suburban pool.

As residents who chose to live near nature, how do we deal with this?

First of all, don’t panic at a bear encounter. Experts say most bears are afraid of humans. They are simply foraging for food, and their diet consists 95 percent of plant life, according to the California NatureMapping Foundation.

It’s only the “habituated” bears - those who have grown accustomed to people - that may become more and more aggressive. Wildlife experts say these bears may eventually need to be destroyed.

We hope experts do all they can to ensure these bears’ safety in their native habitat before resorting to killing them.

As citizens who care about protecting the wildlife around us, we can best ensure bears’ safety by doing everything we can to avoid habituating them. That means keeping everything that will attract them - such as pet food and even fruit that drops from trees - out of our yards.

Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or ammonia. Don’t use bird feeders if you live next to open space. Keep barbecue grills clean and don’t leave any scented products - even non-food items such as suntan lotion - outside.

Obviously, keep your children and small pets inside, especially at night. Bears aren’t likely to want to eat a dog - their diets lean more toward fish, small native mammals, insects, carrion and garbage - but an irritated bear could take a swat at a dog, injuring it.

Above all, don’t feed bears. If they begin to rely on humans they will lose their natural ways and become habituated. Then they may pose a danger to humans and to themselves.

Let’s live in harmony with those who lived here first.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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